Ga-Ga for Grapefruit

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

A Prolific Backyard Grapefruit Tree

It’s hard to believe, but grapefruit didn’t even exist until the 18th century.

Some time in the 1700s on the island of Barbados, someone crossed a sweet orange and a pumelo, the largest of the citrus, and what locals termed “forbidden fruit” was born. The word “grapefruit” originated later in Jamaica, and was given because the large golden fruits grow in clusters, like grapes.

The grapefruit itself was first documented in 1750. In 1809 Spanish nobleman Don Phillipe planted the first grapefruit in Florida. Later, in 1823, the French Count Odet planted a grove on the west shore of Tampa, in a town now known as Safety Harbor.

By 1885, Odet was shipping grapefruit to New York and Philadelphia, creating a whirlwind of interest and launching the beginning of the commercial grapefruit industry.

Today, 40% of grapefruit in the U.S. is consumed as juice and 60% is eaten fresh. And Florida is the world’s leading grapefruit producer. But since the one lone tree towering over my roofline produces enough to feed an army brigade, it’s safe to say that grapefruit grows pretty well in Louisiana, too.

Cutting the Cost of Vanilla

Dried Vanilla Beans

Dried Vanilla Beans

Planning ahead for holiday baking, I recently did an inventory of one of the most important and pricey flavorings in my pantry — vanilla.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

A familiar bottle of vanilla extract.

Vanilla was first grown in the highlands of Mexico, where 15th-century Aztecs called the mature seed pod the “black flower.” After the French discovered Mexican vanilla, they started plantings in the Comoros Islands, Reunion and Madagascar. Today, Indonesia and Madagascar produce 80% of the world’s vanilla.

Vanilla is a tropical orchid that grows on a vine. The main cultivars are Bourbon vanilla (from the Indian Ocean region), Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla and West Indian vanilla. Vanilla beans and extract cost so much because harvesting and preparation are extremely labor intensive. For this reason, saffron is the only spice more expensive than vanilla.

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

A Jar of Homemade Vanilla Extract

Because it seems like I use it by the gallon, I’ve learned to brew my own from pods I buy in bulk. To make a pint of homemade vanilla, just slit three vanilla beans all the way down, place in a clean glass pint jar and cover with a distilled spirit such as vodka or rum. Let the covered jar sit for a month and, voila, you have vanilla extract!

And guess what? I just found a jar I’d started brewing a few months ago and had forgotten about. Now, on to baking those Thanksgiving cake and pies — and I won’t have to scrimp on expensive vanilla.