Rain, Patricia 1943-
RAIN, Patricia 1943-
PERSONAL: Born 1943; children: Serena.
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1970—; health issues writer; author and culinary historian. Consultant and president of the Vanilla.COMpany. Lecturer on vanilla for the Smithsonian Institution, Autonomous University of Mexico, Academy of Sciences, and International Association of Culinary Professionals. Has also worked with Sullivan and Associates, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., The Economy Company, and Houghton Mifflin.
The Artichoke Cookbook, Celestial Arts (Berkeley, CA), 1985.
Vanilla Cookbook, Celestial Arts (Berkeley, CA), 1986.
(Coordinating Editor) Ulrich Riedner, Pea Soup Andersen's Scandinavian-American Cookbook, Celestial Arts (Berkeley, CA), 1988.
The Vanilla Chef, Vanilla Queen Press (Santa Cruz, CA), 2002.
Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's MostPopular Flavor and Fragrance, J. P. Tarcher (New York, NY), 2004.
Creator of a series of educational programs for students as well as mathematics and English workbooks. Contributor of articles about health issues to periodicals. Several of the author's short stories have been anthologized.
SIDELIGHTS: In the mid-1980s, American author Patricia Rain focused her career around her love of food. She has many years of experience in the food industry as a researcher, consultant, and writer, and is considered an authority on vanilla. Her intense study of vanilla led her to start the Vanilla.COMpany, an online business that provides information on vanilla and sells vanilla beans, extracts, books, and other products. She has also traveled extensively to countries producing vanilla, and given presentations on vanilla to organizations around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Autonomous University of Mexico, the Academy of Sciences, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Rain wrote her first food-related book, The Artichoke Cookbook, in 1985. The book begins with an introduction to the artichoke, describing its varieties, anatomy, and how it is grown. The rest of the book contains detailed recipes using the artichoke in appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Three years later, Rain served as coordinating editor of Pea Soup Andersen's Scandinavian-American Cookbook. This title recalls the history of the popular Pea Soup Andersen's chain of restaurants in California, and includes photographs and favorite recipes.
Rain's most popular contributions to culinary literature are those written about vanilla. Her first work on the subject came in 1986 with the Vanilla Cookbook. In the book she combines vanilla's history, botany, lore, and recipes, gleaning information she collected while interviewing vanilla traders and extract manufacturers. After publication, Rain continued to study vanilla, and took several trips to vanilla-growing regions to conduct more research on the subject. In 2002, she published The Vanilla Chef, a follow-up to her 1986 work and companion book to her online business at Vanilla.com.
Rain's most widely known work in 2004, Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Most Popular Flavor and Fragrance, appeared in 2004. Focusing first on vanilla's history in Mexico before the time of the Aztecs, Rain then delves into vanilla's journey to other regions of the world, including Indonesia, Madagascar, and Tahiti. She also describes the process of vanilla manufacturing and gives advice on choosing good vanilla products for home use.
Overall, critics found much to praise in Vanilla. Some reviewers noted the book's extensive coverage of the subject, which is a positive aspect but perhaps not appealing to all audiences. Courtney Greene, in a LibraryJournal review, wrote that the book is "thorough and lively, but possibly a bit too exhaustive in coverage for the casual reader." Others lauded Rain's ability to buoy the tale of vanilla's dark and oppressive past with refreshing anecdotes and observations. "Rain leavens this sometimes depressing history with recipes, folkloric tales and personal vignettes," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Rain told CA: "As a child I was often ill with asthma and bronchial infections, so I read prodigiously and then wrote plays and short stories to entertain myself. My father had started his professional career as a photojournalist and he encouraged me to read and write, and he read to me as well. I exhausted the children's section of our local library fairly early on and by the age of ten or eleven, I was reading many of my parents' books. I especially enjoyed anything to do with people from other cultures and exotic-sounding places."
Food-writer Mary Frances Fisher wrote about writing not as something she did because she wanted to, but rather, because she needed to do, as if she had no choice but to write. I would say that's true for me as well. I process experiences internally in a literary form, telling myself stories about whatever has occurred recently. Given the opportunity, I write nearly daily.
"As a single mother I learned to write children's programs while chasing after my daughter. I sometimes had no desk to work at so I wrote longhand with writing-pad on my lap. I wrote my first cookbooks on a Selectric II; it was a true revelation when I got my first computer. The idea of supporting myself exclusively as a writer has always been a dream, but the reality is that most writers either have a day job or incorporate writing into their lives while doing something additional to support themselves. At this time I feel very fortunate in that my online company and my writing have intertwined, with one complementing the other.
"I am completely intrigued by culture and personality, and this applies to both humans and animals. Flannery O'Connor observed that surviving to adulthood provides enough material to write about for the rest of one's life. I agree. Daily life offers more than enough fodder for fiction and nonfiction writing, though frequently nonfiction is stranger than anything we could possibly conjure up in our fantasies." When I first experimented with fiction writing I was astonished by how the story takes on a life of its own. It was as if I was observing the characters rather than directing them. It was quite surprising. I'm also interested in how the unconscious manifests itself in the writing process and how much comes from deep within.
My next big book is my favorite—perhaps I say this because we always hope to accomplish something deeper or fuller in each new book. But I think it's also because of the subject. I have begun a book on faith and healing based on my own experiences after being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in January of 2004. It was quite a shock to be fully engaged in life and then to be confronted with a serious health crisis. Suddenly my life as I had known it made a sharp turn into a new reality.
"What occurred next was truly transformative. The farmers and their representatives whom I met and assisted via my internet business began to pray for me. People I had never met personally, and who largely had very limited resources (but enormous hearts), dedicated time each day to send healing prayers and energy in my direction. Much to the surprise of my doctors (and me), my cancer disappeared. My new book addresses how healing is perceived within the context of the cultures we live in, and what faith means to each of us. This will be a journey in the physical sense as I travel around the world to meet the many people who were the inspiration for this book, and in the spiritual sense as I process and write about my experiences.
"Everything I have ever written offers seeds of information. My hope is that the seeds will germinate and flourish in the minds of readers. Through education comes empowerment. I believe that each of us has the power to bring something of value to the world. I hope that my work will provide the impetus for readers to stretch the parameters of their own lives and experience their unique gifts, and that they will then share these gifts with others. And . . . I hope that readers will find my books interesting and entertaining as well."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2004, Mark Knoblauch, review of Vanilla, p. 290.
Chicago Sun-Times, September 17, 2003, Lucy Barajikian, "Vanilla," p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2004, review of Vanilla, p. 853.
Library Journal, November 15, 2004, Courtney Greene, review of Vanilla, p. 81.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 31, 2005, Karen Herzog, "With Vanilla, Quality Takes Patience."
New York Times Book Review, December 19, 2004, Tobin Harshaw, review of Vanilla, p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, September 27, 2004, review of Vanilla, p. 45.
Taste of Santa Cruz Web site,http://culinarysantacruz.com/ (February 10, 2005), "Patricia Rain."
Vanilla.COMpany Web site,http://www.vanilla.com/ (February 10, 2005).