There was a thing that was constant in my world growing up: no matter what changed in our house, be it pets acquired and lost, furniture sold and bought, or playthings discarded for want of what was bigger, better, and more expensive, we always had a drawer in our kitchen called the “junk drawer.” And — truly — I don’t think its contents changed in 15 years. I remember digging through it on occasion, probably looking for a pen that worked or something else similarly useful, and getting distracted by the things that lived there. Old key chains, the random screwdriver, tacks, dried-up tubes of superglue, scissors, and cheap plastic souvenirs from trips to places such as the only paradise we knew: the still-watered beaches of the Mississippi Sound. The drawer also contained, for my whole life, a kitschy object called a “Round Tuit.” It looked something like this, and told its holder that he could no longer postpone the things he would do “when he got a round tuit.”
I thought about that shiny little disk of a pun this morning, as I set to making my first batch of homemade vanilla extract. I use a LOT of vanilla in my house — it’s in my weekly granola recipe, in my son’s coconut milk tonic, not to mention pancakes, breads, pretty much everything sweet and baked. I use real extract rather than imitation, since the latter always uses corn-based ingredients that will cause a reaction in my little guy. All that to say, I can drop a lot of cash on storebought vanilla. My go-to brand is called Rodelle, which I can get at Kroger for about $12/8oz (vanilla is a commodity, so the market price can fluctuate quickly and severely depending on the weather in a tropical growing season). It has a good flavor that blends well, and is the best price for the quality. But I had always been reading about how easy it is to make — and how cost-effective. I kept saying I’d do it when I got around to it (hence the flashback to my mid-80’s activity of distraction).
So on my to-do list yesterday was “make vanilla” — I even set out the remains of our bottle of vodka as a reminder. I had purchased the vanilla beans before Christmas, when I ordered all the spices used to make my infamous Chai Tea Mixes. I ordered 2 ounces of beans, which ends up being about 15 beans, at a cost of $18 ($1.20 a bean). It takes six beans and 2 cups of vodka to make 2 cups (16 oz) of vanilla extract. If you’re using a decent vodka, then the requisite 2 cups will cost about $11. So, the homemade extract costs $1.14/oz, and my moderately-priced storebought costs me $1.50/oz (higher-end brands such as Penzey’s currently cost at least $2/oz). It could be even cheaper if you used a lower-end vodka (though I’m not sure how that effects the extract flavor, since cheaper brands tend to be less smooth).
This is all you do:
- Pour 2 cups of vodka into a glass jar.
- Take 6 vanilla beans, and cut them lengthwise (I used kitchen shears), splitting them in half, leaving an inch or so intact at one end (so the beans are still attached at one end, but split in half to let all the flavor out). You can alternatively leave the beans intact, but it will take longer to get to strength.
- Put the vanilla beans into the jar with the vodka, and push them down so they are completely submerged.
- Put the jar into a dark, cool (i.e., not over your oven) cupboard, and give it a shake once a week or so. You should have ready-to-use extract in about 6 weeks (this can then be divided into smaller jars for gifts, too).
I’ve heard that some people add a tablespoon or two of dark rum, too, for flavor. I doubt I’ll do that this time, mostly because we don’t have dark rum. There’s no reason to sweeten it — you just need the extracted flavor of the vanilla bean.
I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m hoping for smooth, easily-melding vanilla flavor. If you’ve made your own vanilla extract, and have any additional tips, please share!
*note: an observant soul might notice that this is a quart-sized ball jar, and there is definitely not 2 cups of liquid in it. The reason was that I didn’t have enough vodka; so I poured what I had in the jar to get the extraction started, and I’ll top it off in the next few days after I get another bottle of vodka.
** This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday at The Nourishing Gourmet.