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The term vanilla is often used to describe something that is bland, or at least safe, and, well, pedestrian. The connotation is unfortunate, and more to the point, incorrect, because the story of vanilla—from its source to its history to the process that takes it from seed to sauce—is actually quite exotic.
Vanilla originated in Veracruz, Mexico, where it was cultivated by the Totonac Indians. Its production remained solely in Mexico until the mid-1800s when conquistadors, colonization and forced “globalization” led to the spread, exchange and export of the unassuming bean. Today, despite vanilla’s global travels and popularity, it’s still grown primarily in just four places: Mexico, Madagascar, Indonesia and Tahiti.
In the 1950s, my mother, Little Dove, spent a lot of time in the green kitchen of our house on the outskirts of San Antonio, even though she hated to cook. To encourage her in her often cheerless efforts, my father, Chief, bought her a special convenience: a self-standing roaster to be used primarily for cooking Sunday dinners. The rest of the week, it could double as a bread box. Chief liked versatile things that pulled their own weight. Money was tight, but if delicious meals were to be the result, he was willing to strain his budget to provide the equipment.
By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by Lucinda Hutson
I design culinary gardens with special themes, as seen at Austin’s vanguard organic nursery, the Natural Gardener. Individual raised beds within a large, circular garden showcase Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean and Southeast Asian herbs. Visitors become acquainted with herbs from these regions by admiring them in a natural setting, and experience first-hand how they complement each other in gardens.