No peaking. Just answer the question. What are tonka beans? Are they:
a) a line of kids’ toys
b) an ancient Polynesian percussion instrument
c) urban slang for “I don’t care”
I’m just messing with you. Tonka beans are actually the seeds from a South America pea plant. They look a bit like a large, elongated raisin but are hard as a nutmeg. While they smell like sweet almond extract, their taste is elusive – floral with a hint of vanilla, cinnamon and something I just can’t pin down no matter how often I sample them. And believe me, I’ve been doing my primary research.
Oh yes, and they’re also banned in the US. “Why?!” you ask in total disbelief. Because they contain the toxin coumarin. Then again so do strawberries and cinnamon. Now, I’m not about to challenge the wisdom of the FDA, but they approve sleeping pills that list suicidal tendencies as a potential side effect but ban a bean you’d have to gobble by the fistful to feel the ill effects. So, I’m not exactly shaking in my kitchen clogs over this one. Besides, what’s a little coumarin between friends?
Anyway, here in Canada, tonka beans are perfectly legal. They aren’t officially sanctioned, but you can buy them without having to arrange a pick up in a dark alley. Julie Van Rosendaal sent me some last year (long before I vandalized her windows) and I’ve been meaning to try them. But when they arrived, I tucked them safely in a jar, stuffed them in a corner of my still pantry-less kitchen and forgot about them — until Cheryl made her scones.
So, with apples on the counter and a chill in the air, I decided to ditch the cinnamon and nutmeg and try a Tonka bean crisp. The house smelled wonderful and the results had me scuttling back to the kitchen for more. And more. And just a bit more.
Banned beans and potentially toxic treats. I’m living on the edge here. Watch out! Next time you see me I’ll be running through the park in my bare feet waving scissors. And I don’t mean the kiddie kind.
Eat At Your Own Risk Apple Tonka Bean Crisp
Makes 8ish servings. Maybe 6. Or 4 depending on your appetite.
- 8 apples, peeled, cored and cut into pieces (the type of apple is your choice, click here for ideas)
- 3 medium tonka beans, grated with a microplane or nutmeg grater (divided)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup quick cook oats
- 3/4 cup butter, cold, cubed
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Peel, core and chop the apples. Place in a greased, oven proof dish. Sprinkle half the grated tonka beans over the apples. Toss to coat evenly.
Combine the flour, oats, and remaining grated tonka beans. Mix to blend. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Sprinkle oat topping on apples. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes.
Eat warm or cold, with or without whipped cream, ice cream or creme fraiche.