Monday, December 08, 2008

Vanilla and Housekeeping!

I hope you had a restful weekend. We were very busy but it was good.
I have done some housekeeping here on my blog. I designed a very simple blog banner using a free digi download from Shabby Princess. I am still so slow with technology, it took me forever to get it loaded correctly! I also went back through the archives and now have a category on my sidebar for tutorial links. I hope that makes things easier to find.
For a few years now, I have wanted to try my hand at making my own vanilla. I use it by what seems like the bucketful and the good stuff is not cheap. Nothing but real vanilla is even worth buying or using, IMHO. I know someone from our old church who makes his own so I finally took the plunge. First, I did a lot of research on it and as with many things you can read about on the web, there were many different ideas. The vanilla you buy in the store has been extracted by a process I don't think you can duplicate at home. But that didn't stop those do-it-yourselfers from figuring out another way.
The process is really quite simple, soak some vanilla beans in a high proof vodka, at least 40-45%. Some people use rum or other alcohol but vodka imparts the least flavor of its own to your vanilla and seems to be preferred. It burns off in baking/cooking anyway.
The beans are key and again there is a lot out there. You can find Madagascar, Tahitian and Mexican beans, and they all have their own unique qualities. Most store bought vanilla uses Madagascar beans. Then there are different quality of beans, grade A are the highest quality and are often used whole or fresh in baking and flavoring foods. Grade B beans are also called extract quality beans, they are less uniform in shape and size, perhaps not as moist. You will find many places on line that sell beans. I got mine from this ebay seller and was very pleased with the prices, quality and service. For my first order, I purchased a pound of Madagascar grade A beans and received a pound of grade B Tahitian beans for free. Oh the smell of these beans is so wonderful, ahhhhhhhhhh! Tahitian beans actually have a bit of a licorice smell. In the future I will probably stick to just grade B beans for vanilla making. The only big difference I found was in their size and plumpness but it wasn't enough to keep me from using grade B's.
The amount of beans per cup of alcohol is a big source of controversy. I settled on 5 grade A beans per cup. When I was using the grade B beans I probably used more like 7-8 per cup since they are smaller in size. I split the beans down the middle and cut several of them into shorter lengths. For storing purposes, I used quart size mason jars. You want the beans to be fully submerged or the exposed ends will dry up. Once you have put it all into a container you need to find a cool, dark place to store them. Then you wait...and wait...and wait. Once a week, give the jars a shake. From my research, you can begin to use the vanilla after about 8 weeks but it doesn't peak for up to 2 years!!
I started my first batch on June 2nd. I was planning ahead for Christmas gifts. I have several jars of just Madagascar beans and a few with a mix of Madagascar and Tahitian. At first I faithfully shook the jars once a week, now it happens if I remember. See how light they started out? At first the smell of alcohol was strong.

This is what it looked like after almost 6 months.

It is so dark you can barely see through it and the smell of alcohol is mostly gone but the vanilla smell is awesome! We aren't drinkers, but I don't think anyone would want to drink it at this point! You will find lots of those small vanilla flecks in your jar now so before bottling it you should strain it. I used a paper coffee filter to strain mine, it was slow but did the trick. This is pretty concentrated stuff so you don't need much when you are baking.
I purchased 2oz amber bottles from Specialty Bottle. Of course, I had to make labels for my vanilla. This first one I made with the Just Rite stamps.

The blended vanilla I made had too many letters for the JR stamper so I created one in Publisher on the computer. I was delighted to find a vanilla bean image in the clip art, perfect! I used SU's 1 3/4" circle punch for the shape. My friend Lynn and I split a box of kraft labels several months ago, I think they may just last me forever! They are whole 8 1/2 by 11 sheets. We split a box of white as well. I probably need to come up with more ideas for using them up.

I have used half a jar of it already myself. I use it straight from the quart jar leaving the remainder still soaking. It can only get better, right?? In the new year, I will probably start a new batch for next Christmas, I can only imagine it with a year to "brew".
I am sure the idea is not for everyone, but I have enjoyed the process. Honestly, the hardest part is remembering to shake the jars once in awhile. I am so pleased with the gifts I have to give from my kitchen this year!


Deb said...

I am very intrigued by the idea of making my own vanilla. I didn't even know it was possible! I may have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing all the details, that was awesome!

Juanita said...

What a great gift idea. I always have folks pick up pure vanilla when they travel (to Mexico or something)But I know my MIL would use pure vanilla, made by me!

ChristineCreations said...

Tracy you amaze me woman! What a wonderful thing to do. I love favourite flavour...(ok outside of chocolate). I bet it's just amazing!

Deanna said...

Oh girl! You have me sooo enthused about making my very own vanilla...I love using good pure vanilla..I have been using Watkins, but it is so expensive.
I am definately going to make my own right after the holidays.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and photos.

Anonymous said...

I've been making vanilla for years but always bought the beans from the grocery store. Thanks for the easy and quick ebay store. Everyone is so amazed that you can make vanilla and it's so easy!