Grit Blogs > The Urban Bystander

Not Just Plain Vanilla

 Vanilla Ingredients 

As someone that enjoys cooking and baking, I am always searching for ways to improve the quality of the food and the cost of the preparation. With skyrocketing food costs, seasonings and spices are increasingly priced at a premium.

One way that I have found to reduce costs is to make my own vanilla extract. Of course, my daughter would patiently explain that it wasn't really an extract since I don't actually squeeze vanilla juice out of the beans. Instead it is a tincture...blah, blah, blah. I'm sure she's right. Well, whatever you want to call it, I find that I am now free to use as much of the resulting liquid in any recipe that I want, yielding a far richer flavor. Baked goods made with homemade vanilla are never bland. This is so simple, that I usually only make up a batch once per year. Today happens to be that day!

The steps are simple:

1.) Order vanilla beans. (I find my beans on Ebay)

2.) Make lengthwise slits in the beans

3.) Fill a pint-sized canning jar with either vodka or rum

4.) Add 4 or 5 slitted vanilla beans to each jar

5.) Place jar in a dark place for 3 months to allow the vanilla to
flavor the liquor

6.) Once a week or so, give the jar a little shake

7.) Once the vanilla is aged to perfection, you can pour it from the canning jar into an easy to pour bottle. We like to reuse glass maple syrup bottles for this purpose. Do not store the vanilla in a plastic container, as it could cause the chemicals in the plastic to leach into the liquid and alter the flavor.

8.) Add to any recipe that calls for vanilla extract & enjoy!

 Aging Vanilla in Jars 

They say that you can surmise a lot about someone by the things that they discard in their trash. Our trash collector will probably think we threw a wild party based upon the empty liquor bottles in the recycling bin. I'll be expecting the faithful readers at GRIT to vouch for my character and explain that the only wild thing around here is this groundhog in the backyard!

 Garden Groundhog Mascot 

I spotted this little joker yesterday. Why didn't someone tell me that it was Groundhog Day? I hope this isn't a bad omen for the 2012 garden. 

nebraska dave
3/19/2012 8:21:18 PM

Carolyn, congrats on having your blog post "Stinging Nettles: The Green that Bites Back! " highlighted on the "GRIT Food Garden Planner Newsletter and Planting Guide". You are getting to be quite popular these days aren't you? Have a great day in the spring time garden.


becky and andy
3/2/2012 8:15:04 PM

We got some authentic Mexican vanilla beans from one of our farm patrons three years ago. They were so precious to us because she picked them up from some roadside stand deep in the mountains and sent them to us in the middle of her trip. We put about 15 of them into a 1.75L bottle of Absolut (the nicest vodka we could afford as farmers) and just ran out of our homemade vanilla this winter. Luckily for us, we still had the remainder of beans in freezer storage and we were able to "tincture" another huge batch for the following three years. I guess we'll have to go online for the next round of beans. But they likely won't be as sentimental :-)


lori dunn
3/2/2012 3:39:38 PM

Carolyn, I have seen instructions on making vanilla before but just haven't gotten around to ordering the beans yet. I really need to because I do an awful lot of baking and go through the vanilla quite quickly! How expensive are the beans? If I make it, I will probably do quite a lot at once. This would make a cool gift too! I already have the vodka. I buy it in large amounts because I make other tintures too. Someone looking into my cubbards would probably think i'm a lush!!


cindy murphy
3/2/2012 12:55:10 PM

I had no idea one could make homemade vanilla. Shoot, I could have used this recipe a couple of weeks ago when I had one of those rare "I gotta bake something" moods, got halfway through the recipe, and realized I was out of vanilla. Luckily, the neighbor was home and came to the rescue (realizing she was almost out of it too). I just bought a new bottle this week. Next time I'll know what to do. Thanks, Carolyn.


mary carton
3/2/2012 3:59:52 AM

The groundhog does mean trouble. There is a very large one living in the dry creek going down the side of my property. I found out a few years back it loves racunulus. I planted a bed of the them one day and they were all gone the next. It tunnels through freshly dug beds like he is swimming, I as first blamed the hooligans for pulling up my daylilies, but thought it odd that they were digging in rows. Then one day I saw this very large head looking out from under my trailer.


nebraska dave
3/1/2012 11:03:39 PM

Oh, yeah, and I think you might be in big trouble with a ground hog roaming around your garden.


nebraska dave
3/1/2012 11:02:28 PM

Carolyn, ok, now we have two uses for Vodka. Your use for making vanilla extract and Lori's use for making body spray. Well, had you been reading my blog last year you would have heard about putting beer on my lawn so now I'll be putting vodka on my body and in my vanilla flavored delicacies. I can't wait to see what's next in the cooking liquor cabinet. :0) Have a great vanilla extract day.


mary cochrane
3/1/2012 7:16:50 PM

How many weeks to you give it a shake? How do you know it's done> By smell?


trish short lewis
3/1/2012 6:40:31 PM

I've done a few tinctures, they're fun. I'll definitely have to try this one out. I LOVE a good vanilla. I just spent $30 for a 22 ounce jar from King Arthur Flour, and I know it's excellent vanilla, but...ouch!


carolyn evans-dean
3/1/2012 5:47:59 PM

Thanks for the character reference, Wendy! I prefer using rum-based vanilla in baked goods and vodka-based vanilla in other things. Rum has its own rich flavoring that it brings to foods in addition to the vanilla flavor from the beans. Vodka is just kinda plain so you only taste the vanilla. For your first try, I suggest that you make it with vodka. It is much easier to tell when it is "ready" based upon the color of the liquid. There are also many types of vanilla beans that you can use and they all have their own unique nuances. I've used a few varieties but I've never made vanilla that didn't taste better than store bought.


wendy slatt
3/1/2012 4:36:48 PM

Good job, Carolyn! I'll be glad to vouch for your character any day. ;-) I've yet to try this for myself, though I will be this year. Do you have a preference between the rum or the vodka? Can you describe the difference in outcome/flavor of each? Thanks!