The Best Gift I Ever Gave - Homemade Vanilla

I cannot even believe it, but Christmas will be here before we know it!  We've already got some Christmas presents "brewing" for some of our peeps.  It is a repeat of some gifts we gave several years ago...

Three years ago Jas and I gave homemade gifts to friends and Jason's coworkers that turned out to be a bigger hit than I'd anticipated.  In fact, one person (months later) quipped, "That was the best gift I've ever received!"  And several of my friends were bold enough (love that about good friends!) to ask for more when they'd used theirs up!

Here is what we gave them:

Looks yummy, right?  No, I don't think it does either.

But that dark concoction is homemade vanilla, and it is yummy!  Well, not straight it isn't. Ick!  But when added to other homemade concoctions  - muffins, London Fog Lattes, ice cream and other desserts, etc. - it certainly adds that special touch that only vanilla can add.

I originally got brave enough to attempt my own vanilla when I read about it on some of my favorite blogs.  Heavenly Homemakers  has lots of great information, and Raising Arrows has a good tutorial also.   

Here are the only ingredients needed to make vanilla extract:

One pound of vanilla beans (I ordered mine wholesale through our co-op)
One gallon of vodka
One gallon container (I prefer to use glass whenever I can for our food/drinks)

First step is to cut the vanilla beans.  I used kitchen shears and cut the beans vertically, leaving the end intact.  

Why?  I don't know.  Because Laura said to do it that way.  But it really doesn't matter.  The goal is just to try to increase surface area of the bean, so as to extract as much vanilla flavor as possible.  

After I cut all the beans (which takes quite a while!  I finished up sitting out at our patio table, as I watched the children swim!), I shoved them all in the glass container, like so:

Here is a picture I just found of my sweet Elisabeth helping me the first time we made vanilla, 3 years ago:

Awww....look at my precious baby girl!


Where was I?

Oh yes...

Then you pour the vodka over the beans.

Store the container away in a cool, dark place....but give it a good shake every once in a while - every week or so.

How long should it sit and extract?  Well, some sources say 6 weeks.  Some say 4 or 5 months.  We're shooting for 3 to 3.5 months this time...because we want this to be Christmas gifts, not Valentine's presents.  But after reading around, it sounds like a shorter time frame would also work...but you better get on it if you want Christmas presents!

After the extraction is done, just pour the vanilla through a sieve/strainer lined with a couple of coffee filters or cheesecloth.  The idea is to catch the tiny vanilla specks so they don't end up in the vanilla extract.

What we keep for ourselves we just pour in any old repurposed glass bottles.  But the vanilla we gift to people, we pour into little amber bottles:

It's not shown in these pictures, but we also bought oval labels at Staples and printed cute little labels for the bottles.

I bought 2 and 4-oz bottles wholesale through our co-op, but these 2 oz screw-top amber bottles on amazon look the same and aren't a bad price.

Now, if you are one of our IRL peeps, forget you just read all of this, and pretend like you don't know what you're getting for Christmas!

Now excuse me, I need to go give my glass container a good jiggle....

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