Vanilla, a simple ingredient we use frequently in our baking (It helps make my rhubarb coffeecake extra special!) is unfortunately not native to North America. Instead it is native to Mesoamerica which includes parts of Mexico and Guatemala and can grow only in the tropics and subtropics or 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
Vanilla is extracted from the fruit that is produced by the vanilla bean orchid, which is a vine-like plant that grows up trees and is pollinated by hummingbirds and bees native to area. Unfortunately the blossoms are only open for a short period of time, so much of the pollination occurs by hand these days in order to meet the commercial demand for this lovely flavor.
But I have a special reason for sharing the vanilla story today. Penzy’s Spices is offering a free bottle of Mexican Vanilla today only (but you must pay the shipping).
Here is what the Penzy’s Spices e-mail said:
“To get your flat-out free $7.95 Mexican Vanilla Extract, just bring this email, or the coupon above, into one of our stores today. Online at penzeys.com, the Mexican Vanilla Extract is also free. Enter 92430C in the apply code box at checkout, but shipping charges still apply. To try to make this a bit more obtainable we’ve dropped our standard $30 spending minimum for free shipping to just $20 and included Alaska and Hawaii in this offer— I hope it helps. If you are spending $20 to get free shipping, be sure to enter 43258C in the apply code box as well for your free $6.95 value Vietnamese Cinnamon.”