John Cawley of Pacific Gourmet, a longtime wholesaler of specialty foods for Bay Area restaurants and stores, says that the big story in food imports these days is the 400 percent drop in the price of bourbon vanilla beans. Three years of typhoons and bad weather in Madagascar, Reunion and the Comorro Islands (the source of 80 percent of bourbon vanilla), had run the price sky-high. So, growers from other countries where the vine-like orchid plant can grow, like Uganda and Indonesia, jumped in to fill the gap and the commodity price has dropped from $180 to $20 a pound. Bourbon vanilla beans have a sweet, tobacco aroma that actually reminds me of bourbon whiskey, though the name derives from the Isle de Bourbon, now Reunion, where the French first built plantations. When we think of the vanilla flavor in cookies or ice cream, it is bourbon vanilla we are imagining. However, the price of indigenous Tahitian vanilla, a different species with a more delicate and floral nose and a plumper, softer pod holds steady at $160 a pound.
Fresh raw peanuts in the shell are appearing at farmers markets and Asian food stores now. If you really want to know what a peanut should taste like, buy them and roast them yourself in the shell. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the peanuts in the shell in one layer in a shallow pan. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring them around every 10 minutes. Let them cool a bit to a firm crunch. I eat them with grains of flaky sea salt.