Vanilla is one of the prime movers in fruit desserts because it heightens the natural flavors of fruits as it sweetens. This syrup has the sweet, rather floral flavor of vanilla beans that complements just about any fruit. You can add other flavors to the basic syrup, such as 1 tablespoon of an eau-de-vie such as Poire William or Calvados, strips of lemon or orange zest, spices, or herbs such as basil or rosemary.
1-1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 moist vanilla bean, preferably Mexican or Bourbon (Madagascar)
1. In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. With a thin sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half. Scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and bean to the pan. Simmer over moderate heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Let cool, then discard the bean.
2. You can make the syrup up to 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.
Note: Even after they have been cooked, scraped vanilla bean pods have a lot of flavor. To make vanilla sugar, dry them well and place in a jar of sugar for at least 2 weeks, adding more as you have them.
"Globally, 95 percent of our calories now come from 30 species," says journalist and educator Simran Sethi, author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate. "Three-fourths of the food we eat comes from 12 plants and five animal species."
"Instead of thinking about [sugar] as an evil ingredient, I thought maybe we can just go back in history a little bit and think about a time when sugar was one of the many spices that people used to flavor their foods," says Sam Seneviratne, author of The New Sugar and Spice.