Vanilla is the talk of the islands here in Tonga, with plans underway for additional planting of the royal lands in Vava’o and ‘Eua. We are working hard to increase production through the existing infrastructure: the vines are here, the knowledge is here, and the vanilla we’re curing as I write is the best I have seen.
The first lots of vanilla beans are conditioning now, and the oils are coming, the aroma is unbelievably rich, and I will never forget the look on Josephine’s face (Josephine Lochhead, Ray’s daughter and president of Cook Flavoring Company, has just arrived in the Kingdom) as she dug her hands into a box of vanilla and said with a blissed-out smile: “This is incredible. If all vanilla could only be like this….”
The quality of the vanilla is thanks to our Tongan partners—Tolofi and Gracie, and Mark and his brothers: through some cold and wet weather, they have sustained the vital fermentation process which develops all the 300+ flavor components of the vanilla bean.
We were proud to unveil our new Cook’s labels at the Royal Agricultural Show in ‘Eua, where once again I was able to speak with the queen about vanilla. Vanilla, she told me last year, is very close to her heart. And King George Tupou VI hopes to carry on his father George IV’s agricultural initiatives to promote a vibrant trade and export culture within the Kingdom.
Meantime, out in the bush, vines are getting stressed in preparation for pollination. This will be a key part of our endeavor for next year. If growers pollinate their vines, the yield promises to be high. And that means we can source much more of our yearly supply of vanilla from Tonga. We want this, because the quality is unparalleled.
Already, flowers are appearing on the vines. Pollination must be done on the day the orchid opens—and preferably in the morning. All the orchids open at different times, which means growers must know their bush well—and keep patrolling it every morning. It’s extremely labor-intensive. Our grower/curer Tolofi has already begun pollinating his vines, which grow strong and wild on beautiful sea-view slopes. The elevated regions of ‘Eua and Vava’o tend to produce the healthiest vanilla.
The cold South Pacific winter is keeping a harsh grasp on these islands—this week started and last week started with deluge rains and harsh winds—but spring is in the air, and when the sun comes out it’s strong and lovely… and the vanilla loves it. You will taste this delicious Tongan sun in your vanilla when it comes.
‘Ofa atu from the Kingdom. Until next time…
– Susannah and Josephine