The Story Of Our Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar can be used in your coffee or tea, sprinkled on your toast or oatmeal, or used in baking. It is made with organic evaporated cane juice sugar made by Oregon’s own Bob’s Red Mill mixed with our wonderful vanilla powder. It’s powerful stuff so use it sparingly.

Why do we make a vanilla sugar?

Gather round with a cup of hot vanilla and let me tell you the story of how I learned about the marvels of Vanilla Sugar! It all started one day in Astoria Oregon. I was set up and selling vanilla at the Sunday Market, it was early in the summer season, maybe the first weekend of June.

Two women appraoched me with looks of scrutiny. I engaged them as I do, asking if they’d “like to smell some vanilla?” They smelled the extract and grimaced, this was not the usual reaction, so I showed them the beans, and showed they could smell them even throught the sealed bag, and they smelled those. Their faces softened and one almost smiled. I had a feeling I might know what was coming next.

One leaned in and spoke in a heavy accent. “I am from sweden, we do not use extract, we use vanilla sugar.” She looked me sternly, straight in the eyes, and when she said the word extract her pupils even narrowed, damn. That’s disdain! But I get it, it’s an American thing. Extract. We don’t even know vanilla without the alcohol smell that is part of the extract experience.

Crazy huh? America.

I had learned this some months back from my dear friend Fordinka who owns Drina Daisy, an amazing Bosnian restaurant in Astoria. She had given me a few packets of “vanilla powder” a year or so before and I’d played around with them a bit in baking. I found the concept fascinating. They were sealed bags of what appeared to be corn starch, maybe cornstarch and powdered sugar with vanilla, but white, no vanilla seed specs. A mysterious substance for sure!

Yes, my American friends, a good amount of the rest of the world doesn’t use extracted vanilla, they use a vanilla powder and/or vanilla sugar. I didn’t know the whole story, but I’d been experimenting at home for about 6 months trying different methods and ratios out on vanilla sugar. Ironically, I finally felt like I had it, and here before me was the perfect opportunity to get some honest feedback on my prototype!

“I know something about this, I’ve seen the vanilla powder in the packets. Both women nodded slowly. “Yes, we use that… sometimes.” the one said, but it sounded like in a pinch.

“Please tell me how the vanilla powder works?” I inquired.

We measure out our sugar for recipe, but we take out 2 tablespoons and replace it with 2 tablespoons of vanilla sugar. You understand?” She asked.

I nodded and smiled. “I have been experimenting. I can bring you some next week, and you tell me if it’s going to work?” They were surprised and excited.

The next week they came along as I was setting up. I I couldn’t wait to show them what I had made. I felt I’d found the perfect ratio of vanilla powder to sugar, and the sugar was Bob’s Red Mill Organic Cain Juice Sugar, because of course these women did have have the same pesticides, nor GMOs in Europe. Plus, I‘d found really nice resealable bags in my beloved kraft brown with a clear front window, They even stood up on their own. Each stamped with my logo and a big rubber stamp print that said “Vanilla Sugar”. I was nervously excited. I hoped they didn’t hate it. IN my tests this was what I felt was a supreme ratio, nt too much, but so much as so much as to be shocking. (Yes, there defintely was a too much vanilla threshold). They were standing back a bit as the market had not officially begun, and I had only begun dressing the table.

As a fellow baker, I guessed correctly they were eager to get baking for the impending Scandinavian Festival less than 2 weeks away. The Scandinavian Midsummer Festival happened every June around the Solstice out at the Astoria Fairgrounds. It is a poweful cultural event truly keeping the traditions of a people alive, rather than being predominately about the beer garden as most ethnic festivals I’d attended over the years in Chicago were. This was not that. It was serious and beautiful.

“Hello!” I said excited to them after laying the tablecloths, waving them over. “Let me show you what I have!” They looked at each other seemingly surpirsed that I might have actually come through. I bent down to open the bin of stock I’d brought to sell. The vanilla sugar sat right on top. I’d made six 16-ounce bags, essentially 2 cups of sugar in each. First I handed them each small bags of a few tablespoons in a small clear ziplock baggie.

“Here is what it looks like, open it up and take a wiff.”

The two women pulled open the small bags and gave a big sniff, ones eyes rolled back for a moment and her mouth dropped open slightly losing the stern face of a second earlier, the other seeing the reaction sniffed the bag, her eyes closed, and she gave an audible sigh.

“Here’s the big bag”, I offered, pulling out the 12-ounce bag in a big reveal. Their eyes got wide. “How much?” one asked with eager anticipation.

I handed each of them a bag and set the other four on the table. It appeared they approved.

“Oh no, this first bag is on me. Thank you for your help.” I smiled, “Your reaction was better than I could have hoped for! But, the deal is you have to come back after the festival and tell me how it worked for you. Okay? I want real feedback.”

They looked at each other in disbeleif. The stoicism on their faces was gone, they looked like children, delighted children.

“Oh wait before you go, my company is Triple XXX Vanilla, so this is triple strength, replacing 2 tablespoons might be way too much. I turned a few things black in my tests. Maybe try a teaspoon?” They nodded with certainty and left. Speeding away to get started with all the pastries they were going to be preparing for the festival.

Living in Astoria among so many Scandinavian people, I learned they were people of few words, much like my father. Stoic and often hard as nails, not mean, just skeptical and not easily won over. I appreciate that. They returned two weeks later with two more women and bought all of the sugars I’d brought that day. And that is how Triple XXX Vanilla Sugar was born!

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