So last fall, my friends and I made vanilla. I had been to Stacy’s house and she told me she’d started making her own, and how easy it was and money-saving too. She’d found a great source for vanilla beans that were cheap, but good for making vanilla. I went home and researched it a bit, then went on a campaign to get my other friends to get on board, so we could split shipping and an entire pound of vanilla beans. We finally agreed on how many beans we wanted and where to get them. Next was a trip to the liquor store to get vodka. Yes, vodka. That’s what you make vanilla extract with–liqour. I’ve seen recipes using rum or bourbon, but vodka allows the vanilla to shine through. Get the cheap stuff, that’s all you need. I got a big bottle they called a “fifth.” I had no idea what it was a fifth of, but my friend Michael set me straight–it’s a fifth of a gallon or 750 milliliters. OK, got it.
So then I got out my quart Mason jars and boiled them like I was going to can something. I don’t know if that’s necessary or not, with the alcohol content of the liquor, I’d assume that would kill anything, but just in case, I boiled my jars.
So then you take your vanilla beans and cut them. There are several ways you can do this–just chop in pieces a couple of inches long or split end to end seemed the most popular. I tried both ways. Put 4 – 6 beans per cup of vodka in your jar, then fill with vodka. Screw on the lid and place in cool, dark place, like a cabinet.
Once a week, take the jars out and shake, just to stir everything up, then put back in the cabinet. It made me feel a bit like a moonshiner, or the sisters in the Waltons making “The Recipe,” having all these mason jars in my pantry, but given my East Tennessee heritage, well, I’m sure there’s a few moonshiners in my back history somewhere…
That’s all you have to do. The vanilla will be ready to use in about 3 months. The best way I found to tell if it was ready was by smell. If you open the jar and it still smells like liquor, well, it is still liquor. When it smells like vanilla, it is vanilla. It won’t hurt to leave the beans in there longer. The flavor continues to intensify.
The number of beans will vary slightly, as they are sold by weight, but by my calculations, with my batch of beans and the cheap vodka I used, I could make 8 ounces of vanilla for $4.50, which is 56 cents per ounce. My Kirkland (Costco) vanilla is 76 cents per ounce, and if you look on Amazon, you can buy vanilla for as much as $2.05 per ounce.
Here’s a link to my Amazon store (I’m an Amazon affiliate) with the best price on vanilla beans I found online, anywhere. These are the beans I used and they’re great! Next week I’ll post what to do with the vanilla beans when you’re done making vanilla–don’t you dare throw them out–and packaging your vanilla for gifts or your own use.