Want to make a special gift for the cook in your life?
And for not much money? Homemade vanilla extract is the perfect gift – everyone cooks. And at Big Mill B&B, vanilla is one of our favorites.
But not all vanilla beans are equal. If I can even find vanilla beans in eastern North Carolina, they are usually all dried up. But with some diligence good beans can be found. (See below) Vanilla beans come from a climbing orchid and each has its own special quality – some redolent of cherries, bourbon, cinnamon, even prunes.
The different beans have myriad flavors like Madagascar, Bourbon, Tonga (I almost took a boat delivery job to Tonga in my youth), Papua New Guinea, Mexico (I did go there in my youth), Tahiti, Indonesia, and Tahitensis & Planifolia Blend (the most typical vanilla.)
The more I read about vanilla beans, the more I am intrigued by them. Each bean is hand-picked and hand-pollinated. Now we know why they cost so much.
- 3 or 4 vanilla beans
- 1 cup vodka *(some recipes use bourbon, light rum or brandy)
- Cute glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid
- Using a very sharp knife, slit into each bean except for an inch at the end. If you cut too much the seeds will come out and cloud the vanilla. This isn't a problem, just doesn't look as pretty. You can strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter if it bothers you.
- Put beans into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with the vodka. Shake.
- Store in a cool, dark place for at least a month - longer is better. Shake the jar every once in awhile. This wonderful elixir will last for years. As you use it up, just add more vodka, and give the bottle a shake or two.
* The cute little Absolut Vodka bottle in my photos has 200 ml of vodka, just short of a cup. Bend the beans to fit in the bottle. The next size of Absolut Vodka is 375 ml (almost 2 cups) and the beans will fit in the bottle easily.
I used three beans for the smaller bottle and six beans for this larger bottle, just remember to use 3 beans per cup of vodka. It isn’t necessary to use the high quality of vodka like Absolut, but I really like the bottle!
Just a thought – Commercial vanilla extract often has a sweetener added to take away the bitter aftertaste. You can add simple syrup (sugar water) if you want.
Recipe from Innkeeper at Big Mill Bed & Breakfast 252-792-8787
PS — In case you’re wondering where to buy vanilla beans …
Penzey’s sells good vanilla beans and during the holidays you can sometimes find beans at discount places like Trader Joe’s, B.J.’s Wholesale Club and Costco. In fact, yesterday I found them at a Costco in Atlanta – 10 beans for $11.99.