Bloomington Diary – Part 4 – Farmers Market

I was always fascinated by the term farmers’ market, having seen it in movies & TV shows. It was the first of a series of lovely surprises planned by my daughter.

The market is located at 401 N. Morton Street Next to City Hall – Shower building. We walked along a beautiful old railway line that is now converted to a walkway, called B-Line Trail, to get there. The Bloomington community farmers’ market is open every Saturday from April through November. I did not know what to expect till I landed there. Only locally grown organic products of Indiana are sold there. It was pretty & colourful, with very friendly vendors. I am gradually getting to notice that Midwestern people are genuinely nice- always smiling & wishing you as you pass by. I did end-up buying blueberries, black walnut, Chanterelle (mushrooms) a.k.a Golden Chanterelle & greens. They had prepared specialty foods, nuts, fruits, honey & wax products, fruits & vegetables, annual & perennial plants, etc. The tantalizing smell & colours made me want to stay longer but we had to head back fast. Hope I can visit the place once again sometime.

Touching, seeing & eating fresh wild chanterelle was in my bucket list. It’s pretty expensive & the lady who was selling it was handling it like gold!! But it was really tasty & the irony was that I ended up sharing it with so many youngsters & I am not even sure they realized what it was!

I also tasted the Japanese cucumber which tasted so good… almost like the summer country cucumber grown in paddy fields back home!!

I never knew there was such a thing called black walnut. The shell was so hard & different from the Asian walnut. The nut & its hull reminded me of a nut that we used to eat from the trees back home. The tree used to ooze out a red resin that eventually became Amber. Come to think of it, I have not eaten it in ages. The strangest thing was that there were very few nuts costing a fortune in a zipper bag & the vendor showed me a bigger bag with plenty of nuts in their shell for a cheaper price. He also meticulously explained how hard it is to cut & separate the nuts. I bought the ones with the shells wondering how hard it could possibly be but I ended spending so much time separating them! Finally my husband made me throw half of it!! The nut is more flavourful & a little heavier on the tongue than the Asian walnut.

There were large tomatoes in pink, yellow & red colour arranged side by side, gleaming in the beautiful morning sunlight.

The candles from the bee wax were crafted into so many different shapes.. including birds & animals.. so beautiful… I was tempted to buy them all! But sadly never bought any…

I had the privilege of meeting a lovely young Amish couple too, which was another first for me.

I went to most of the shops asking if I could take pictures & all the friendly, stunned vendors were more than happy to allow me to photograph their products& them.

Like I said earlier, I hope I can head back there soon! Despite having seen so much, I feel like I barely spent any time there. I must make this a weekly plan when I come back to Bloomington next year.

Why Kodavas eat pork and not beef – Part 2/2

Why Kodavas don’t eat beef? It’s simple….. Pure common sense, sense of gratitude & in harmony with the nature. Realization that a living cow is more valuable than a dead one. What would be referred in Corporate & Banking Sector as Profits & Return on Investment (ROI)!! So the far-sighted Kodava fore-parents developed the culture of respecting the cows & prohibiting the slaughter & consumption.

No other animal is as important & panacea* than the cow to mankind. It provides milk twice a day – morning & evening religiously. Milk is a complex substance, & a variety of constituents can be extract from it for use as ingredients in other foods. Who never tasted the cow’s milk & its byproducts known as dairy products like curd/yogurt, buttermilk, butter, ghee, cheese, ice cream, condensed & dried milk, etc., etc? If a child unfortunately loses his/her mother or mother does not have sufficient milk, the child can be raised only on cow’s milk & in majority of the counties there is no other alternate too. Even if the mother is alive, once we reach a certain age we grow up (cradle to grave perhaps) drinking milk obtaining all the nourishment.

Bullock is used to plough the field to grow different kinds of crops; the cow-dung is the best natural manure which makes the soil fertile & produces the purest organic food!! Flattened & dried cow-dung is also used as renewable fuel in many developing countries. The hide (leather) of the cow is used, the bone & fat extracts are used in various products &, even the dead cow becomes manure after it disintegrates in the nature. Those who can’t afford cement use diluted cow-dung to cover the mud floor to prevent dust. So I guess most of the readers agree with me that the cow definitely deserves to be respected & not killed & consumed.

It reminds me of a simple lesson my mother taught: because you cannot extract all the milk from the udder, you don’t cut the udder. You have enough common-sense to know it’s of no use…

Cows grown naturally eat only greens or fruits in other words only vegetables & eating different types of grass & leaves, the milk produced is very nutritious. There is one complaint from the scientists that it produces loads of methane… well even that can be harvested & used as gobar-gas for cooking & heating. Sometimes I wonder what would be the human production of methane particularly the ones who eat beef!! Just kidding….

The cute faced, humble eyed calves running around happily with their bell in the neck is a site to behold & slaughtering it as veal… the thought makes my heart heavy.

So how could anyone who does more good than harm could be mistreated or harmed? Just like a mother does for the child, cow is practically sacrifices its entire life for the good of humans. Someone once told me that God made the cows to slave, serve & be human food. That makes me wonder, why did God really made the humans? Is it just to propagate? Aggrandize? Destroy everything on the path just to fulfil the greed?

If you have grown up around the farm land you will realize how gentle & social the Cows are. They maintain the meadows by grazing evenly & maintenance of the grass is very important. Grass acts like sponge in absorbing & holding the rain water which seeps slowly into the ground. Cows are as diverse as cats, dogs & people. Some are bright, bold, adventurous, some are friendly, they cry (tears in the eyes) when in pain or sad & mourn the loss. They are intelligent, interact in socially complex ways & have cognitive abilities. They always come home in the evening & stand in their place at the pen.

According to Ayurveda cow’s ghee is the best compared to all the other fat products & is used intensively in the medicine. I remember while growing up, my mother left the freshly churned butter on the dining table inside a pool of butter milk. Every time I passed in front of the table, a small glob of butter went to my stomach. There were many occasions nothing left for the next day breakfast. Yet she left it on the table, perhaps indirectly encouraging us to eat. And I was always very slim. Then that butter was made out of the milk from the free roaming cows fed on green grass/hay & other greens/fruits, unlike the present day cows which are fed anything from animal protein to God know what??

Among all domesticated animals, cows hold a special place in the human evolution. Relationship between humans & Cows perhaps stretch as far back as the existence of humans or cows itself! The divine wish granting cow Kamadhenu (Kama = desire, wish & dhenu=give or grant), believed to be the ancestor of the present day cows came out during Sagar-manthan (churning the ocean) for Amrita (Ambrosia – the drink of immortality) & the story of Punyakoti is practically known to all the Indians. Kamadhenu (aka cow of plenty, Surabhi, Shaval, Aditi & Kamduh) is considered holiest jive (soul) on earth since creation & it is said that if a child is born under unlucky star is passed under the body of a cow to offset the effects.

For those who city dweller who never heard of, a sweet dish is prepared similar to thick custard by steaming the new milk (colostrum – after the calf is born) along with jaggery/sugar to taste & little cardamom powder. This delicacy is rare as it is made out of new-milk only. We call it Ginnu (AKA Ginnu in Kannada, Foosa in Kokni – Maharashtra & Barhi in Karachi, Pakistan). You cannot drink or use colostrum in beverages. When I asked my mother why we are depriving the calf of its mother’s milk, I was told that the calf cannot have more as it causes lose motion & we have to extract it whether we use it or not!! More over if we don’t extract, like humans they also have pain which might result in fever or shock.

Note: It’s ironic that inspite of not eating beef, all most all of us taste/tasted the traces of cow’s bone in our diet every day!! Don’t trust me read my next article…..

Informational:

*Animal byproducts.. Interesting… most of the goods mentioned are the byproducts of cattle.

I am not discouraging anyone from using but just telling how much the animals are part of our system. Many people are allergic to animal products & you can find non-animal related products too. I use many of the products mentioned but like they say ignorance is bliss… as long as we don’t see… the raw material we will keep using the things. After all man is a creature of habits & we are already seasoned users of most of the things.

Gelatin (unless specifically mentioned vegetarian), what is Jello is made from the connective tissues of the cow. Gelatin also found in some gums, fruit snacks like gummy bears & marshmallows!

Animals like cows, sheep & swine have remarkable similarities to human bodies, & many anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplant (heart, liver, etc) & the natural insulin (used by diabetics) contain animal byproducts.

Some ointments for burns & first aid creams may contain animal byproducts.

The little white tablets called enzymatic cleaners used to clean contact lenses contain enzymes, an animal protein. Enzymes are also used in laundry pre-treatments.

Expensive wool & woolen material including the beautiful shawls comes from animals. The smooth beautiful silk is the cocoon of silk worm!! Leather jackets, wallets, shoes, belts, gloves, watch bands, car seats, chairs, etc., etc., are made from leather. The saddle soap used to help the leather to maintain its softness contains…

Fatty acids from cow CAN BE USED to make adhesives (remember the sticky part of the bandages), in toilet papers to make it soft, dish soap that helps make your hand soft, nail polish remover (gelatin) that gives strength to nails, soaps-lotions-makeup-lipsticks-shaving cream-deodorants (may contain stearic acid, a fatty acid or lanolin from sheep), etc.

Coating of the film (contains gelatin), crayons (can also be soybeans), paint brush (mostly horse hair), some printing inks like high gloss printing, industrial cleaners contains animal byproducts. Candles may contain the fat to give them more strength, longevity (last longer) & make them more opulent.

Cow’s hooves & horns are used to make glue in the labels. The world famous, exclusive bone china, (a fine material is the brain child of English potter Josiah Spode created in 1748) is made using the bone ash, feldspathic material & kaolin…

Sports equipment is made from the cow’s hide like basketballs, baseballs, footballs, volleyballs, soccer balls & gloves. Football is also made from pigskin.

The binding agent in asphalt on highways, stearic acid in the tires which helps to maintain their elasticity contains animal byproduct. Chances are that even the hydraulic brake fluid, car wax & glycerol in antifreeze contains animal byproducts.

There are many more to list… the question is how much more we want from the animals particularly the cattle & how do we repay them?

An amazing creation: ‘pitchers’ can speak a thousand words!

Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me: The more I try to learn the more there is to learn. At first sight the creeper looks like any other, but the buds & flowers are nothing like anything I have seen before. When I first saw it, I was mystified, I was staring at the buds/flowers & my niece was staring at me watching my reaction. I don’t know from where this ornamental plant originated from but found it very interesting and perhaps worth sharing.

The flowers are pretty with a striking reddish maroon colour with small little patches of white and have absolutely no odor. As the buds bloom, it looks so much like human organs (at least to my eyes) even to touch & texture…… creepy… my niece even say that she feels awkward to look at it & it brings creeps to her!!

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In nature there are so many examples of nuts & fruits, vegetable which looks similar to human organs like the folds and wrinkle on walnuts which look like the brain, beans like kidney, crosswise slice a carrot in half and the cross section is like the pupil and iris, light bulb shape of an avocado looks like a uterus, stalks of celery like bone, lemons/grapefruit like breast, slice of tomato with the multiple chambers that resemble the structure of a heart, ginger like stomach, oblong sweet potato pancreas, clams bear a resemblance to testicles, etc. And strangely it is said that anything resembles the body part is good for that particular body organ!!!! What this plant is good for well I absolutely have no idea!! Someone told me about an old joke in biology: if you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s likely either “surface area or homeostasis.” Those two principles account for an amazing amount of what goes on in biological structures & processes!

To have a better opinion, when I showed the picture to my doctor friend she was tongue tied, I was told that the bud looks very similar to the anatomy of the male reproductive system. In actual organ picture shows…Testes, Epididymis & Vas deference. which is cut about half cm when vasectomy is done.

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The half bloomed flower looks like the external part of the female reproductive system. Fully bloomed flower looks practically hollow from outside & petals looks saggy. Only an expert botanist can tell us how it works. Usually flower has so many parts like corolla, petals & inside both male & female reproductive stigma. The female stigma is generally single & the male stigma could be more than one, which produce pollen gains. And the female stigma after pollination becomes the fruit. You can see in the picture, the fruits developing from the swelling female stigma which is elongated.

Even though I was told that it is a pitcher plant, I am not really sure it is one. It looks different than the two types of pitcher plants known to me in my native place Kodagu. It does not really catch the insects & in-spite of me keeping close eye for almost ten days; I could find no pollinator also. Only once I saw a dragon fly sitting on it. Perhaps it is pollinated in night or may be self-pollinating??

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Is this mother earth’s way of letting us know that basically we are not different from all the living beings? We may not be related but we can verily relate… All life force is made out of the same panchabutas (earth, water, fire, air & ether).Even though we are the pinnacle of the creation, we still go through birth, decay & death. Once dead everything becomes the part of same panchabutas. Death & birth are still mystery to us. Since almost all of us don’t know the real purpose of our life, basically we eat & produce no matter one is a pauper or royal or in modern-day terms the president or a celebrity or a terrorist!! That’s why birth is awaited & celebrated…. Hurrah….. The God in me is the God everywhere…. high time we all learn to respect the fellow creations & live in harmony.

 

 

 

Food for thought…… Happy Super Mother’s Day! (1/3)

I’m grateful to all my readers who have been my inspiration and have crossed more than two thousand two hundred views! And to add to it, me a budding blogger received a pleasant mail from Mr.Blake, the Black Ivory Moghul himself! (See the comment on that article!)

Going to take a break from coffee and do a bit of philosophy. I have a short series of articles where I’ve tried to blend Mother Nature with Prayer, Humanity, and Violence. The last one is a short story.

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If a picture speaks thousand words, Mother Nature speaks infinitely to those who want to see or listen. This was the two hibiscus flowers (Dasavala poo or Chembarathi) on the same plant in my home garden on the morning of Saturday, Sept 29th 2013. This exquisite translucent white flower species (delicate/silky/supple like baby’s butt) is not a hybrid but a native variety hence no human influence. The plant is around 20 years old & bears white flowers most of the time. Rarely, you can see a touch of pink here & there but I’ve never seen a perfect blend like this before!!

To summarize the way I look at: The white part of the flower is the God almighty, the pink in different hues symbolizing us human beings (& perhaps our religions), blending in perfect harmony. Mother Nature is telling us that if all the religions (& humanity) are like beautiful precious pearls, GOD almighty is the thread that holds the pearls together in a beautiful string. While a string of pearl is cherished / admired by everyone, a single pearl just sits in the vault of a miser waiting for its chance to see the daylight once in a blue moon!! IMG_4815

Prayer is the most powerful tool on earth & mass prayer can send vibrations far & wide if it is done for peace. In the time of crisis the first thought that comes to any normal mind is the prayer. No matter the colour, creed or religion, prayer is a prayer, for the very spark of life that makes us alive is the spark from God almighty which is common in any creation. Let us pray in unison, stand together to help us in Conserving/Preserving mother of all mothers, our Super Mother. Drawing the strength from God & peaceful mind (from payer) let us work towards our goal.

On the contrary Violence is against the laws of nature no matter in any form. Animals kill to eat not for pleasure/fun & once their stomach is full they wait till the next meal to kill again. Animal killing is to balance the nature but human violence is the dark side of humanity & to fulfill the rotten egos & psyche of individuals. Violence from a disturbed mind is as bad as an atom bomb. Atom bomb when dropped is not selective on who it kills, but cause massive destruction to the entire creation.

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Then again just pray & do nothing is also not sufficient. Mahatma Gandhi aptly said that, acts of kindness to a single heart are better than a thousand heads in payer. Sympathy & its big sister Empathy are the back bone of humanity. Unfortunately we humans come together only at the time of crisis, otherwise it’s my way or highway!! Be it a large crisis or an individual crisis, human reaction is the same. Be it the Westgate Mall in capital city like Nairobi or a small University town like Bloomington (Indiana) or any small office in the Middle East, every one opens their heart & mind & willing to do anything possible. May be in any form/kind – blood, prayer, food, anything at all….. This shows that humanity is not extinct after all. I SALUTE THOSE WHO STAND UP AT THE TIME OF CRISIS & SHOW THEIR TRUE BEAUTIFUL COLOURS. However, not only during the crisis but also in normal or happier times we should learn to live in harmony with Mother Nature & the entire creation. Even though we don’t realize, everything in Mother Nature is inter-connected. We may not be related but we can verily relate to one another.

Preserving Mother Nature is nothing but saving ourselves & our future generation in return. Sadly, because of our ignorance & selfishness, knowingly/unknowingly we have been using, misusing & abusing her, as if sucking out juice from the sugarcane. Time is running out, we don’t have all the time to make each & every mistake & learn from it. High time we join hands & work for the welfare of the world. Let us learn from the past mistakes… & act now. Let us learn to live in harmony & coherence. We can do it & we should do it… The trillion dollar question is, should we wait for the bigger crisis or disaster to come together? How much time do we really have remaining? Clock is ticking… like the time bomb….

Guava

Kaie (kai) in Kodava dialect, seebekai/seebehannu in Kannada & perekka in Malayam, guava is one of the most common fruits in Kodagu. Kaie is the general term used for raw & pannu for ripened fruit. The term Kaie must have coined from the fact that it is one of the very few fruits which can be relished before ripening. There are two types of guava, kadkaie (wild guava) & jathikaie (hybrid guava). Kadkaie is little hard but tastier than the jathikaie. Jathikaie is the Apple variety or the common guava is inexpensive & sold all over Karnataka on every street corners. Size varies from species to species & now even one kilo guava is also available!! Since you find the kadkaie in the almost all houses, plantations, in the forest, besides the paddy field, creeks & river banks, one may wonder if guava is native to Kodagu? Most of the households use the leaves, flowers, immature fruits, bark & roots as medicine, particularly tender leaves for diarrhea. Sometimes it is given in combination with the pomegranate leaves. I vaguely remember my mother giving it to me when I was little & I have trust in it, particularly the kadkaie. Research is being conducted to find the medicinal properties of guava tree. {see the bottom of the article for the medicinal properties}.

 

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Wild guavas grow on its own from the dispersed seed either by bird dropping or human/animals. There are also seedless guavas in apple variety grown from grafted plant. Light brown ever green tree with green leaf &, the trunks & branches have an attractive smooth bark that flakes off in patches (like the eucalyptus tree). The tree is pretty strong & can carry normal human weight easily & most of the time when you bend the branch to pluck the fruits it does not break also. Buds looks almost like a rose bud. The lightly fragranced milky white flowers are a beauty in its own right & looks as if it is smiling at you filling your heart with delight. From birth till ripe the guava is dark green then it turns light green. If you have strong set of teeth it the time to eat so says the birds. Finally it turns pale yellow or off white. Wild red guava has darker yellow colour when ripe than the normal one. (In the picture you can see a beautifully groomed wild red guava tree standing majestically.)

Guavas from the myrtle family genus psidium are supposed to be more than 100 species. Depending on cultivar the flesh inside may be white, red, pink, or yellowish. Both jathi & kad kaie comes in white/cream or pink {only when ripe & normally called chonda kaie (red guava)} flesh. Depending on the species Guava can be long, round or oval & the skin can be any thickness, is usually green before maturity, but becomes yellow, maroon, or green when ripe. The outer skin is rough before maturity & if eaten leaves a strange taste in the mouth & throat. It tastes best when it is about to ripe before turning yellow. During the season birds particularly parrots & bats have gala time & we have to compete with them for the best fruits. When we were young we plucked the half bird eaten guavas (then there was no bird flu…hahaha) & cut off the eaten part & relished the remaining. And believe me it was the sweetest… you can find out yourself, try it out.

Normally by sight we can make out if it is ready to eat or not. Sometimes the guava looks lighter even when not ready to eat. Easiest way to know if ready is by pinching with the finger nail: A simple but effective technique. The apple guava becomes soft when ripe & just pressing between the palms will break it open. when over ripe, particularly during the rainy season it has worms in it. so make sure to check it before eating. don’t worry you won’t die if you eat by mistakeEmoji.

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Once yellow, it becomes soft & the ripe fruit becomes aromatic filling the room with its distinctive aroma making its presence felt. Some people do not like the smell!! If there are enough water supply, you find few fruits here & there almost throughout the year. The flower calyx persists on the ripe fruit & most of the time you find tiny harmless ants sheltering under it & when you touch it runs all over you tickling. Often you find black heads on the guava but this is not harmful to eat. I simply remove it with my nail or knife or just bite & spit it. I have done it a thousand times & still alive & kicking!! We just call it kajji (meaning boils) kaie. Wondering if guavas get pimples toooooo hum.

It is made into juice, punch, sauce, fruit salads, candies, desserts, jellies, jams, marmalades, etc. Juice is delicious… I have never tasted the guava wine… may be one day will try it out… I have tried guavas from quite a few countries & found that the wild guavas of Kodagu, particularly during the summer are the tastiest!! Something cannot be explained it has to be experienced. In rainy season it is not very tasty, just add little salt & chillie powder & eat it. Some use plum powder mixed with sugar & salt too.

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Medicinal properties of Guava:

The juice of the leaves is said to provide relief from cold & cough by reducing the formation of mucus, disinfecting the respiratory tract & preventing bacterial activity in the throat due to its astringent properties. Safe to give to children too. Kadkai is more potent.

Guava leave & fruit is also infused into tea which is used as medicine. Guavas supposed to contain as much potassium as banana, 4 times more vitamin C than an orange, copper, manganese (which acts as an enzyme activator utilising nutrients like thiamine, biotin & ascorbic acid), Vitamin A (good for vision), B group of vitamin (good for blood circulation, brain & nerve function).

Guavas are supposed to be antimicrobial/antibacterial, astringent, dysentery & fever. It does not cure but helps reduces cholesterol, balance BP, diabetics, good for constipation, an antioxidant, etc. Good for the skin too. Because of its Vitamin E content, astringent properties & antioxidants, the skin is nourished. Lycopene protects the skin from being damaged by UV rays & also works against prostate cancer. Pink guavas are said to contain twice the amount of lycopene present in tomatoes.

Women with fertility problems can eat guavas as they contain a good amounts of folate, which contain fertility-promoting properties.

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One unusual thing you may not have heard before… My beloved older sister Rani used to eat hard guava munching thoroughly saying it cleanses the mouth & teeth as good as floss. Even though I did not pay attention then, now it makes lot of sense to me because her teeth are stronger & healthier than mine!!

Hey guys what are you waiting for… if not for any benefits just enjoy eating guava… next time when you see a guava tree scavenge through you will definitely get lucky & the off season ones taste really great. Grow a tree in your garden which does not require any special attention.

Australian guava {Cattley Guava (Psidium cattleianum)}: Even though it is known as Australian guava in Kodagu, this variety is said to be native to Brazil & is known as strawberry guava. May be it was first imported from Australia!! This small (slightly bigger than the thumb) burgundy guava has a stronger flavor & said to thrive well wherever citrus is grown!! The attractive dark & glossy green leaves looks somewhere between ficus or smaller rubber plant leaves. Although the tree, leaves & buds looks different, the white flowers & fruit looks almost the same but both smells different than the Common guava. Fruit is green when unripe gradually turns to deep plum. Like Common guava, the flower calyx persists on the ripe fruit but the fruit texture & taste is different, & does not have any special aroma. The white/cream coloured flesh very soft (you can almost suck it), tastes slightly sourish with few very hard scattered seeds which are slightly larger than the Common guava. Another unique character is that, if the fruit is left to rot whole, the outer skin remains like a small sack. Since I have seen very few rotten ones I cannot give very clear description. It’s not very high yielding in Kodagu & the trees are not big too. Older trees have a smooth, flaking bark. There is supposed to be another guava similar to strawberry guava known as lemon guava but I have never seen it.

Thai maroon or Malaysian red guava: Except for the colour, the tree – fruit is very much like apple guava. Tree is burgundy brown, leaves are brown-purple with very pretty pink flowers. Fruit starts of as bronze-brown or remains same colour as the leaves in all stages of its growth. However when it is ready to be eaten it turns lighter in colour. When cut inside it is purplish pink (rather pretty but hard to pin point the colour).

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The What, How and Why of Vanilla

I was at my cousin & best friend Prema’s house during the first week of Jan ‘13, sipping my piping hot coffee and enjoying the beautiful pristine surroundings & the crisp fresh air. The chirping birds, the colourful lotus in the pond, far away cry of peacocks & mist filled tranquil surrounding, always fills me up with calm & peace. On every visit there, I feel as if I’m seeing everything for the first time!!

All of a sudden, I could hear some commotion nearby under the pomegranate tree & saw both Prema & her husband Dr. Ashok busy doing something by the trunk of the tree. Curiosity dragged me there & I got the chance to witness the unique way of artificial pollination of vanilla. In my previous visit there, I had the privilege of clicking the wonderful pictures of the vine, buds, flower & beans of vanilla with the help of Prema’s niece Muth. When I showed the pictures to my friends & colleagues, practically everyone had no knowledge what so ever about how vanilla comes & asked me such questions which I had no answers too. I decided to ask Dr. Ashok who is a treasure house of knowledge on plants with a wealth of firsthand experiences. Upon my request as always Ashok patiently explained me the whole process briefly in layman’s terms. I believe that an experienced knowledge is better than the book knowledge!!

History

Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid vine (I am sure most of you did not know that!), which grows in the form of a bean pod. It is said that Vanilla (botanical name: Vanilla planifolia) originated in Mexico with the Totonaco Indians, (it always amazes me is to how without any modern technology our forefathers understood the mysteries of Mother Nature?) who were conquered by the Aztecs who, in turn, were conquered by Hernando Cortez. Vanilla is pollinated by the Melipone bee in Mexico. Along with other plunder, Cortez took cacao beans & vanilla pods back to Spain. But he forgot to carry the bees!! He couldn’t conquer the beeeeeeeeezzz!!! 😀

Today, Vanilla grown in all regions in the tropical belts & currently Madagascar is the largest producer.

There are three main bean varieties, Mexican, Madagascar and Tahitian. Mexican beans are mellow and smooth with spicy, woody fragrance. Madagascar beans called Bourbon bean after the former name of Reunion Ile Bourbon are long and slender have thick, oily skin with a very rich taste and smell. It contains numerous tiny seed with strong aroma. Tahitian beans are plump, short and high in oil content. The skin is thinner, contains fewer seed and the aroma is fruity and floral somewhere between licorice, cherry and prunes. Natural vanilla extracted from high quality beans is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Natural vanilla extract is a mixture of several hundred different compounds in addition to primary compound vanillin.

In Madagascar, it is supposed to be pollinated by humming birds which is endemic to Madagascar. In Kodagu a very small percentage of pollination is done through ants & moths which come to drink the nectar at night. another variety of vanilla not much known is found in Andhra Pradesh, India, which does not have leaves & grows from node to node zigzag (may be one day I will post some pictures). Vanilla is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit known to man. Like other orchids’ seeds, vanilla seeds will not germinate without the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi. Hence the creeper is reproduced by planting the cuttings which already contain the fungi.

Planting

First a section of the vine with 6 or more leaf nodes, which has aerial roots growing opposite each leaf, is removed. The two lower leaves are removed, & lower area is buried in loose soil at the base of a central support. Vanilla climbs up an existing tree (a tutor), pole, or on any other support.  It can be grown in a plantation on trees or poles, or in an enclosed greenhouse, in increasing orders of productivity. The more the roots the creeper has, healthier the creeper is. So around the support, the creeper is planted almost bringing the creeper into a whole circle so that the creeper produces more roots. The remaining upper roots will cling to the support, & often growing down into the soil. The creeper needs 30% sun & 70% shade. Not much water is required and a spray (fogging) system is ideal. While planting make sure there is enough room to approach the creeper particularly for hand pollination. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir & it includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climatic conditions. Flowering season could be longer depending upon the care given the creeper & the terroir.

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Pollination

Growing vanilla is laborious especially because of the artificial pollination by hand. The vanilla flower lasts just about one day.In 1836, botanist Charles Morren by chance witnessed the black bees pollinating the vanilla flower & began experimenting with hand pollination. However, in 1841, a 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius on Reunion developed a simple & efficient artificial hand-pollination method which is still used today. Vanilla flowers are hermaphroditic & carry both male (anther) & female (stigma) organs; however, to avoid self-pollination, a membrane (a petal) separates those organs. So manually the membrane is lifted with a bamboo sliver (thinner than toothpick), then, using the thumb, transferred the pollinia from the anther to the stigma. The flower, self-pollinated, will then produce a fruit. You will not know if the pollination is successful or not in about a week. If after a week the petals falls off that means the pollination is not successful. If the petals remains intact even after a week, that indicates that the pollination is successful & the beans will grow.

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Maintenance

Between flower & plucking the pod it takes around 6 months. Neither the green pods nor the flowers have the flavor or odor of vanilla. The nodes which once yielded beans will not yield again. After harvesting of the bean you have to prune the creeper. When there is no rain (in Feb) you have to stress the plant by not irrigating them. Nip the tip of the vine so that the nutrients are used for the growth of the creeper. When you nip the creeper, new nod which grow is usually thicker & healthier than the original one!! Then if you irrigate, the nutrients are used for flowering.

Beans

When the beans are light yellow it is ready to pick (over ripping can cause the beans to split). The whole bunch may not be ready at the same time. Hence collection of the bean is arduous. Once plucked, put the beans in 60 degree temperature water between 5 to 10 minutes depending upon the size of the bean to arrest the processes of the living plant tissues. Remove from the water & keep it in a shade wrapped air tight in a woolen blanket to let the bean sweat. Next day (i.e. after 24 hours) dry it in sun for 2 to 3 hours. Once hot remove from sun, wrap again in woolen blanket & keep in shade for sweating. Repeat the ritual for 3 days & from 4th day shade dry till it is almost dried. It is important to massage the bean from one end to other to distribute the fluid inside evenly. This also makes the bean straight. To test the right curing, try to wrap the bean around your finger which should coil easily. Also if the curing is proper, vanillin crystals will form on the skin of the pod.  Cured vanilla pods contain approximately 2% by dry weight vanillin. On cured pods of high quality, relatively pure vanillin may be visible as a white dust or frost (what looks like sugar crystals) on the exterior of the pod. Almost the same methodology is used in large scale production. Beans of 6 inches & above, the bean is considered ‘A’ grade. Once dried the bean is dark brown in colour. After processing wrap 1 kg (around 60 beans) with butter paper & stack them in an air tight wooden box. Beans should be kept in a tightly-closed container in a refrigerated area. It should also be kept tightly-sealed, in a cool, dry place away from sun & heat.  This way you can preserve it for years together. Pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf-life, & actually improves with age like a fine wine or liquor.

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The end result!

It’s hard to describe the highly valued flavour of Vanilla as different people describes it in different way like, pure, spicy, delicate floral, creamy, spicy, woody & fruity. It brings happy mood to majority of the people but there are very few who practically hates it!! (I did a small survey involving more than half a dozen different nationalities and got very varied responses from everyone!). Both natural & artificial vanilla is used for flavouring in baking, chocolate, ice creams, perfumes, creams, etc. Some use vanilla powder (ground vanilla beans) & others use whole vanilla beans. These whole beans can be rinsed after use, thoroughly dried, & stored for reuse. For maximum effect, people tend to cut the bean in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and use them. Instead of wasting the skin, powder them and mix with sugar so that you can flavor your coffee and tea with vanilla.

Artificial vanilla flavoring is a solution of pure vanillin, usually made either from guaiacol or from lignin, a constituent of wood, a byproduct of the pulp industry. Semi-synthetic vanillin is derived from the eugenol found in clove oil. However, today most synthetic vanillin is synthesized in a 2-step process from the petrochemical precursors guaiacol & glyoxvlic acid!! Bet most of you did not know that most of the vanilla you taste is petrochemical!

Knowlegde is power

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I’ve been wanting to write for a long time now. My children have been forcing me to write… but it never happened for two years now. Finally, my daughter-in-law said “I always learn something from your mails and stories, why don’t you write in a blog! We set up a site way back in November 2012, which forced me to write… I spent two months wondering what to write… and finally settled for an interesting thought and observation I have.

I’ll start with a small advice which was passed on to me by my departed father: old men are wise and that too fathers are always wiser, right? His advice was about education vs. wealth. As an Indian I have grown up looking at the pictures of gods and goddesses all my life. I am sure most of you know that Goddess Saraswati is the goddess of education and knowledge and Goddess Laxmi is the goddess of wealth. I wonder how many people really thought of or glanced at the depiction of both of them in either the Vedic symbolism or in the Indian philosophical perspective. Vedas are one of the oldest books known to mankind, yet they are also relevant and even modern in its thoughts, that can cater to the unending quest of the human mind. There is meaning for everything if one really wishes to learn, everything is given for a certain reason with certain inner meaning.

Take for example Goddess Laxmi. The goddess of wealth stands on the lotus with wealth (gold coin to be precise) falling from her hand. Wealth provides comfort, luxury & material enjoyment for the body. On the other hand Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of words, knowledge and inspiration, clad fully in pure white sits gracefully either on a rock or on lotus playing her veena (lute). In Sanskrit the word ‘Sara’ means ‘essence’ and ‘swa’ means ‘self’. Thus Saraswati means ‘the essence of self’. She is known as the awakener of the consciousness to right thinking or right states of mind. She represents intelligence, consciousness, cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the arts, eloquence and power. While Goddess Laxmi represents material wealth related to body and senses, Goddess Sarswati represents the purity of thought, word and deed.

A deeper meaning is that knowledge and education is like a rock which once gained cannot be moved. They are solid foundation that, rain or shine, sits like the rock. It’s a permanent gift one can give to oneself. No matter how hard one may try, they will not be able to steal it from you. Wealth on the other hand, is fickle. Like how with every passing wind, the lotus standing on water will sway from side to side, wealth always sways unsteadily. Unless one is really careful, it’s difficult to hold on to the wealth. In an instant, wealth can be blown away. Over the years I have seen people born with a silver spoon losing their money in a short span of time. However, a few years of hard work and dedication to education will reap healthy benefits in the longer run.

Moral of the story is: Give primary importance to education: It is the true key to success. I remember my son when he was in first or second standard singing his school anthem will full gusto “Knowledge is power! Knowledge is power! (I don’t think he understood the meaning back then) An education can also help you to manage your wealth.

I know one might say Bill Gates is a school dropout. Well there is only one Bill Gates out of 7 billion in the world right? Unless otherwise you are pretty sure that you are born in the right place at the right time with right luck, (did you check your horoscope this morning?), give the highest importance to education. That’s what I have been preaching my children all along!!

Na chor haryam, na raaj haryam, na bhratra bhajyam na cha bharakaari,
vyaye krate vardhate eva nityam, vidhya dhanam sarva dhan pradhanam

Meaning: The wealth that cannot be stolen, neither abducted by state, nor can be divided amongst brothers, Neither it is burdensome to carry, The wealth that increases by giving, That wealth is knowledge and is supreme of all possessions.