So, you are probably wondering, "How does one make a concoction of vanilla extract?" I thought you'd never ask! Let's get started.
Here is what you need:
- 8 oz. vodka--doesn't have to be really high quality, but honestly, the higher quality ingredients that are used, the better quality of the finished product. It should be at least 35% alcohol (40% is better, and common for vodka). Don't use a higher concentration than 40% alcohol. You want a vodka that has no flavor or odor. Bourbon and rum can also be used, but it will add additional flavor to the vanilla extract.
- Minimum of five Grade B vanilla beans (here is where you can mix flavors to make it the best!). You can use the higher priced top-grade beans, but the B grade are sold specifically for making extract. They don't look as good as the top-grade beans, but are of the same flavor quality.
- A 10-12 oz. size bottle or jar for soaking your beans and vodka, with a tight-fitting lid.
- A cool, dark place.
- Time. Lots and lots of time.
Here's what you do:
With a sharp paring knife, split the bean pod down the middle, but don't cut through the other side. You just want to expose the beans and insides to the liquid. Some people suggest scraping out the stuff inside of the pod, then chopping everything up and putting it in the alcohol, but it seems unnecessary-really, the beans will soak for so long that the liquid will thoroughly penetrate the bean, and the flavor will be extracted regardless. You can cut the beans to fit and stay submerged in the jar, though, which is why I cut my beans in half.
|15 Madagascar B-grade beans. They are dried more than top-grade beans, but you get the same effect with vanilla extract using these beans.|
|The fine, delicious, fragrant insides of the pods.|
|These are the Indian vanilla beans--notice the difference in appearance between these and the B-grade beans.|
|And these are the Bourbon vanilla beans...they were by far the plumpest beans of the three I purchased. They had a tacky, almost licorice-type feel to them when I took them from the package.|
|These are food-grade sticker labels that can be found with canning supplies at the store. They wash off very easily.|
|You can see that the liquid is already starting to change color as the flavor is being extracted!|
If you're like me, you wonder a lot about random topics. In my researching ways to make homemade vanilla extract, I couldn't help but wonder when someone realized that they could extract the flavor of the vanilla from these beans. Because they are not native to our part of the world, it meant that shipping merchants must have introduced them to us here in the states, but when? I know that in our cooking at the living history farm, we use rose water for flavoring, and rose water is commonly specified in many mid-19th century recipe that I've seen. So when was the U.S. introduced to this nectar? According to the Southborough Historical Society website, in Southbourough, Massachusetts, a chemist/druggist named Joseph Burnett actually created the extract in the 1840s for a woman who had lived in Paris before moving back to the States. Chefs had used it there, but not in a precise way, to get the vanilla flavor in some of their dishes. Here is the information quoted from the historical society's webpage:
“In 1847 a [prominent] lady [wife of a wealthy Boston manufacturer] who had lived some years in France, entered the store of Joseph Burnett, the Boston chemist. She said she was very anxious to procure a vanilla flavor for her creams, sauces and desserts, such as she had been getting in Paris.
At that time the only extract of any kind in this country for flavoring purposes was a cheap extract of lemon. A few French chefs used the vanilla bean itself. This was the clumsy, unsanitary and inconvenient way these chefs got their vanilla flavoring; they would purchase one or two vanilla beans, cut them up and put them in a linen bag, ready to use like a tea ball, to flavor whatever was required. The results from this tedious, inexact method of extracting the flavor were of course very unsatisfactory. When the bag was first used it would give the delicious flavor of pure vanilla, but afterwards, when it became diluted, the taste was weak and unpalatable. It was never uniform in strength or flavor. It was always expensive because the full rich flavor could never be thoroughly extracted.
To read the full story, here is the page link: Southbourough Historical Society
There. Now you can go on Jeopardy! and win the final question. I always feel smart when I can answer the Final Jeopardy! question.
Here is the post for straining and bottling the extract after it's been steeping for a few months: Vanilla Extract After Three Months.
I'm not endorsing or being sponsored by anyone to do this post. That being said, here is the store that I purchased my beans from: Beanilla.com . You don't have to buy from them--you can find vanilla beans online at several places, like Amazon, Rose Mountain Herbs, and Amadeus Vanilla Beans. Same thing with the bottles. Do some shopping online and find out what best fits your needs. Then order your beans and make yo'self some homemade vanilla goodness!