A recipe for old-fashioned vanilla custard, with real vanilla

Hops, vanilla and chocolate. You didn’t have to ask Daan for other flavors of custard. Strawberries and white custard? I don’t think they even existed yet. In those easy suits, remember? Boo boo bla bla, we’re making Domovla.

Daan was our milkman. Three times a week he put a couple of bottles on the sidewalk of our 1970s apartment. Glass bottles, each dairy product had its own color cap. Blue for milk, red for buttermilk, green for yogurt, yellow for vanilla custard, and so on. I thought of Daan’s old-fashioned, thick bottled custard when the Appeals Board of the Advertising Code Committee recently ruled in a case that consumer organization Foodwatch had brought against FrieslandCampina. There is no real vanilla in Optimel vanilla custard and the company is therefore guilty of deception.

Although this decision of the Board of Appeal is not binding, misleading the consumer is indeed prohibited under the European Labeling Regulation. FrieslandCampina will therefore have to either put real vanilla in its custard or change its name. And not just FrieslandCampina; the vanilla custards of most competitors also contain no trace of the pods of the vanilla orchid. If I may take the liberty of speculating here about the outcome of this dilemma, it will of course be a change of label. Vanilla is far too expensive an ingredient to put in a simple carton of custard – the price is now higher than silver. Similarly, most of the vanilla ice cream in the supermarket is based on a lie. Vanilla sugar? Sugar with synthetic vanillin and therefore pure deception. The ruling could also have far-reaching consequences. There are countless products in which artificial flavors mimic the taste of natural ingredients. Raspberry yogurt without raspberries. Ginger syrup without ginger. Do they all have to change their names now? We will see.

In the meantime, we cook our own vanilla custard. I found an example in an old cookbook of my mother. Foods it’s called, published in 1965 by the Dutch Dairy Bureau. But, to immediately get rid of the idea that everything was better in the past: the recipe states that you can use a quarter vanilla pod or a bag of vanilla sugar.

Of course we do it with real vanilla, and also a little less Calvinistic, with a whole stick. I also added a few grains of salt, as a flavor enhancer. Serve the custard with strawberries. Or rhubarb compote. Or make an old-school pie.

Real vanillevla

For 1 litre:

1 liter of milk; 1 vanilla pod, cut open lengthwise; a few grains of salt; 2 eggs; 60 g of sugar; 30 g cornflour.

Bring 800 ml of milk with the vanilla pod and a few grains of salt to the boil. Let steep for 20 minutes. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and cornflour. Add the last 200 ml (cold) milk and mix.

Fish the vanilla pod from the hot milk, scrape out the marrow and return it to the pan. Now pour the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking.

Pour everything back into the pan and heat, stirring, until the custard begins to thicken. Pour it into a bowl and let it cool covered.