Auntie Anne tried something new at the weekend - vanilla salt. To be honest, it was fairly disgusting. It's not obvious why anyone would think vanilla salt was a good idea. But vanilla does have lots of exciting uses and you might be surprised at some of them.
It's the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron, because its cultivation has to be done by hand and is very labour intensive. But real vanilla tastes divine.
If you decide to make your own ice cream (maybe I'll do a recipe for that some other time) it's invaluable. You can flavour ingredients for it in many different ways. You can boil a pod in milk (for gelato) or steep one in cream, or you can split the pod and scrape out the seeds (as in the photo above). That will give you that trendy 'spotty' effect that shows you've used real vanilla.
Don't throw away the pod when you're done. Even if it's been boiled you can re-use it in a number of ways. Just dry it by dabbing it with some kitchen towel. If you split it first, try not to dislodge too many of the remaining seeds.
Pour some caster sugar into a clean, screw-top, jar and push the vanilla pod into it. Within a couple of weeks the sugar will have taken on the flavour. Use it to make cakes and sweets and just keep topping up the sugar until you notice the smell is fading. That will take quite a while. Depending on how much baking you do, it should last a year or so. *
Buy some really nice Ceylon tea bags (or whatever your favourite type is that's not already flavoured) and treat them to their own tea caddy. Add the used vanilla pod to the caddy and seal it up for a couple of weeks. After that you'll have delicately scented tea that will impress whoever you serve it to.
Wrap the used pod loosely in some muslin or treat it to one of those voile bags that they sell to put wedding favours in. Slip the bag into your knicker drawer and you'll find your undies come out smelling sweet! *
Try vanilla in:
French toast (eggy bread)
soups (specially ones with sweet things like parsnips)
* You can do that with lavender seeds too, if you like that sort of thing.