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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, August 20, 2006

French Vanilla

I was reading the can of pop my daughter wanted me to try a couple days ago. It was one of these local “marketing mixes” Pepsi is testing called: Wild Cherry and French Vanilla Pepsi. The taste was less striking than the adjectives used to describe the flavors.

Pepsi evidently uses wild cherries as opposed to the tame cherries Coke uses in Cherry Coke—the kind grown in neat little cherry orchards all in a row. Imagine how much harder it is for Pepsi to make its product with wild cherries gathered randomly from hill and dale. Perhaps they've sub-contracted veteran Scout Masters with a walkie-talkie cell phones who hike around with their boys: “Ah, yea, Boss. Troupe 156 just found a couple more wild cherry trees in Essex Township. I’m sending the GPS coordinates. That’s nine so far this weekend, but I’m not sure how we’re gunna keep up if this Wild Cherry flavor catches on. Over.”

This savage cherry flavor is then thrown into the can with the savoir-faire of French Vanilla. The clash practically guarantees taste-bud entertainment in every swig. It's wrestlemania for the mouth! ("Savoir Faire eez everywhere!" )

But I digress.... What I really wanted to discuss is French Vanilla? I love vanilla. I love the smell of vanilla. My mom says she and her girlfriends used to put a dab of vanilla behind their ears like expensive perfume during the Depression and WWII years. But what I'm wondering about was when did the word vanilla lose its cachet and begin needing the word "French." We now hear the term French vanilla all the time. Is it from France? Something tells me “no.” I’ll be right back.

Okay, I just did a Google Search on "French vanilla." The first listing was Wikipedia. Evidently, vanilla comes from the beans of an orchid native to Mexico. The secret of growing this unique plant was traded to other countries by the Spanish Conquistadors. Not such a good trade. It turns out that Mexico is now a small-time producer of Vanilla compared to Madagascar, the world’s leading producer, cranking out 3 million metric tons of vanilla beans per year—fifteen times what Mexico produces.

The island-nation of Madagascar is so dependent on vanilla production that when the world’s biggest consumer of vanilla extract went to a substitute flavor in 1985, Madagascar’s economy crashed. Good thing the corporate consumer changed its mind and went back to its original recipe. Who was the company? Why Coca-Cola, of course. No one was madder about “New Coke” than the people of Madagascar. All’s well that ends well.

This is fascinating stuff, but since France has nothing to do with the production or origin of vanilla, where does the French part come from? Wikipeda explains that, too: “The term French vanilla is often used to designate preparations that actually have a strong vanilla aroma, and possibly contain vanilla grains, but originates from the French style of making ice cream custard base with vanilla beans, cream, and egg yolks.”

Aha! The French part has to do with ice cream. I knew that! I really did, but you’ll have to read the story below to know whether or not to believe me.

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