Sunned, massaged and kept warm at night
18 August 2020
Vanilla beans are one of the valuable exports from French Polynesia. Most are grown in the Leeward Islands, Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora. We have visited a lot of vanilla farms and even seen the vines growing wild in the jungle. While FP produces only about 1% of the world's vanilla, French chefs in Paris wouldn't even think of using anything but beans from FP for their Creme Brule.
Prices range from $2/bean to $15/bean. It just depends on where you buy them. But there is a quality difference too. Most of that difference is in how the beans are dried. But all vanilla starts with a special orchid vine that must grow in partial shade. Some farms are mesh covered plots with concrete supports for the vines. Other farms grow a shrub first, then plant the orchid vines that climb on the shrubs and grow in their shade. When the orchid flowers, it must be “married.” Each flower has boy and girl parts. A sliver of bamboo is used to open the flower and fold the two parts together. Voila! When the flower dies, a bean, the size of a jumbo green bean grows. The bean is picked when it starts to turn brown.
Lisa and I ride bikes a lot. We love the scent of flowers and often vanilla as we ride. Yesterday, on Tahaa, we rode by a large table, spread with vanilla beans drying. The scent was heavenly. We were in a hurry to get to the post office before it closes so didn't stop. Someone is getting a package from FP.
On our way back we stopped. An elderly man came out to talk with us about his Vanilla. He called for his grand daughter to help with translation. Not needed, I can now converse in French here. The beans need to dry 3 months before they are market ready. Manahi mentioned most of the beans had been drying only 2 months. I asked to buy some and we would finish drying them on Uproar. Manahi not only gave us a big bundle of beans for our $50 but an insulated, reflective sheet to help with the drying.
He explained (and we knew from other talks with vanilla growers) it is important to dry the beans only 3 hours/day. Then the beans need to be massaged and wrapped in insulation to keep them warm through the night. We will do this for one more month. Having the beans dry on our cabin top fills the boat with that magic, tropical fragrance.
When the beans have been properly sunned, massaged and kept warm at night, they become hard. Hard beans are always the most appreciated!