A glass of beer on a table

A Fun Project for While You’re Homebound

I’m going to bet that Christmas is about the last thing on your mind. Am I right? And now you’re thinking about it. So am I. And I mean homemade Christmas gifts. Yes! What a great way to make the most of being homebound. Crazy idea? Not at all when you consider my absolutely favorite homemade gift.

A close up of a bottle of wine

Making vanilla extract is super easy, but it takes time to brew. Sure, in a pinch you can wait until the last minute and make it in your Instant Pot, but the most ideal results come with at last six months of brew time. Suddenly, we’ve got time. And boy do I have good news on the price of vanilla beans!

Finally, the price of grade B vanilla beans (best for making extract) is coming down. Significantly. I placed my order for 2020 gifting and 25 beautiful, grade B vanilla beans (best for making extract) arrived at my front door in just a couple of days.

Equipment

  • Glass jar with lid
  • Gift bottles

What size glass jar?

Any size canning-type jar will do. It all depends on how many gifts you plan to make. Plan on 4-oz. of extract for a nice size gift. Since I make at least 24 gifts, I use large 2-quart (32 oz,) Ball jars for my brew.

Your vanilla extract will “brew” in the jar that you want to keep in a dark cupboard, but in a place that is handy as you will need to shake it up once a week during the brewing process.

What kind of gift bottles?

These 4-oz. amber bottles with black screw-on lids are my favorite for a couple of reasons: They look cool, and the amber color protects the extract from light. The 4-oz. size is very generous and makes for a great gift size.

 

A band performing on a counter

 

These 5-oz. clear hot sauce bottles with black caps and shrink bands are also a great option.

A glass of beer on a table

Ingredients

  • Vanilla beans
  • Vodka

What is the best type of vanilla beans?

Vanilla grown in Madagascar is known for its high quality and the best flavor, although beans grown in Tahiti and Mexico make a fine extract, too. Grade B beans, surprisingly, are better than Grade A for extracting. They’re cheaper too. That’s why these vanilla beans are my choice for 2020.

What kind of vodka?

You want a mid-range, unflavored vodka that is 40% alc/vol and 80 proof. Look for that on the label. And look for one that’s on sale. I recently purchased a 2-quart bottle Fleischmann’s Royal Vodka locally for $6.99 on sale. Perfect.

A close up of food, with Vanilla and Bean

Instructions

Here’s the simple process I use to make a big batch of pure vanilla extract:

Get some canning jars (or other large glass vessels with lids) and wash them well. Using a sharp knife, snip the ends off the beans (don’t throw the ends away).

A knife sitting on top of a wooden cutting board, with Vanilla and Gift

 

Starting about 1/4″ from one end, slice each vanilla bean lengthwise to about halfway lengthwise, leaving the two halves connected. The point here is to expose the millions of tiny vanilla bean seeds that are packed inside the beans. Don’t remove the seeds and try to not let them escape.

A large pair of scissors cutting a piece of wood

Put the vanilla bean pieces (including the snipped ends) into the canning jar. I need a lot of vanilla extract, so I use two 2-quart jars with about 30 beans in each jar.

Using a funnel, pour vodka into the jar covering the beans in the liquid, up to about 2 inches from the top. Place the lid on tightly and shake it very well.

Put the jar into a cool, dark cupboard. Once a week give the jar a good shake to get those tiny seeds well distributed.

The longer the extract “brews” making sure to give it a good shake routinely,  the darker it gets and the more intense the vanilla flavor and fragrance.

This is how it looks on Day One …

Gift and Bottle

Day Three …

Bean and Gift

And Day Four …

Gift and Bottle

This is how it will look when fully brewed, 4 to 6 months. And beyond that? It just gets better and better!

A glass of beer on a table, with Gift and Bottle

 

Prepare gifts

Using a small funnel, fill the gift bottles with the extract. Add a nice piece of vanilla bean to each gift bottle so it will continue to intensify, instructing your giftees to shake it regularly.

Vanilla beans will remain amazingly potent almost indefinitely, which means the brewing bottle with beans can be refilled with vodka to continue the brewing process.

To finish off some of these gifts, I used these very cool customizable labels from Avery. It was so easy to go online and use the companion templates and designs that come with the label instructions.

A close up of a bottle on the counter

The results are quite amazing if I do say so myself. The embellishment I used here is this olive green raffia ribbon, which I love.

A glass bottle sitting on a table, with Gift and Vanilla extract

I am so excited that I know exactly what my homemade Holiday Gift for 2020 will be. Just the same as it has been for so long, it’s become a tradition—to the delight of those who are on the receiving end. These sweet bottles of awesomeness are easy to ship.

My best estimate is that 24 bottles cost around $4 per gift, complete. I plan to enclose a fabulous cookie recipe with each of my gifts—one that calls for lots of really good pure vanilla extract.

By the way, I never completely empty either of my big jars so that the beans that remain will be submerged until I get around to refilling them with vodka.

It appears that while I have fewer beans now (some went into the small gift bottles) I will have a never-ending supply of vanilla extract for baking, flavoring coffee and gifts throughout the year and beyond.

My original batch of vanilla beans from 2012 are still in my big jars! Because I add a bean or two to my gift bottles, the stash dwindles. Even so, I used those beans for seven years. Last year I added some new beans, and will do that now, as well.

Making homemade vanilla extract is not an exact science. Common sense tells me my now-8-year-old beans are tired—not completely spent—but need a friendly boost.

Vanilla beans just keep on giving. And giving!


Up Next:

Instant Pot Vanilla Extract—One Week from Start-to-Gift

How to Make Fabulous Meals Using a Formula, Not a Recipe

The Five Legal Documents Every Adult Needs Now


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  1. Dolores says:

    God bless you and keep you safe. Thank you for all your encouragement and great tips and ideas. I have a question about the last picture of the fully brewed vanilla. Did it evaporate? I see that the jar is half full. I don’t suppose vodka can be home delivered, so I guess I will have to wait until we aren’t self-isolating. I’ve been wanting to make some vanilla for a long time, but I find the ingredients to be so expensive. I had some vodka and gin leftover from some liqueurs that I made one year and my dear hubby thought they were “too old” so he threw them out! Yikes! HaHa. He doesn’t drink.

    Reply
  2. Connie Smith says:

    Mary
    I recently discovered your site. I’m enjoying it very much. I am wondering is this recipe would be dangerous for alcoholics?

    Reply
  3. Bridget says:

    I make handcrafted bar soap to sell at local events. I was all set for the first city block party that was supposed to be tonight. I have a lot of inventory, and was thinking of making special labels for gift giving this Christmas. Also- I decided to be virus-news free for the entire weekend. I’ll of course follow current guidelines, but no TV, radio, or any other news source. I can definitely use a break, and maybe there will be something positive to hear in a few days. This weekend will be yard work, baking, music, enjoying the outdoors,and family time. Staying positive! God bless!

    Reply
  4. Kay Jones says:

    Thank you for your advice. I am a retired nurse who worked in the OR for 40 years. I would suggest people make their masks, not use the disposable ones. Those should be saved for the front line medical personnel who work inches from people and aren’t able to keep a distance. The N95 masks should be used with caution since in a hospital setting we were fitted and tested to make sure they sealed correctly. I don’t want people getting a false sense of security with the use of masks and gloves. Gloves can have pin prick holes and ill fitting masks are no use. I cringe when I see people wear them under their nose. Staying in is the best plan. Stay safe.

    Reply
  5. Polly B Deal says:

    I love your calm reassurance. I too know we will get thru this together-apart. I keep spreading the word we should be PHYSICALLY distant, but we still must be able to socialize. This is where technology comes in so handy. Zoom, face time, skype, google meet up, microsoft team. There are so many options. Some are necessary meetings (like my school board) but there is no rule we can’t meet as “family” as well! God Bless you and yours. I pray for all the health care workers and the ESSENTIAL workers on the front lines. Respect their sacrifice!

    Reply
  6. Marilyn says:

    Thank you Mary, for your inspirational message. I always enjoy your ‘cheapskate’ ideas, but your post today is so reassuring and calming in this unsettled time. Marilyn

    Reply
  7. Christine says:

    Mary,
    I love your articles, Keep up the good work! Shifting our focus to Christmas or the birth of our savior is a great idea. I believe homemade gifts are the best. I am a new quilter and will be sewing away to prepare for Christmas gifts. Have a blessed day! I appreciate all your time and effort.
    Suggestions for future articles: how to stretch your hamburger meat (by using half the amount) how to keep a family or yourself healthy while sheltering in place (because many people are gaining lots of weight just being at home) financial tips of how the stimulus package $1200 or $2400 should be handled based upon the needs because this money isn’t for a shopping spree. Tough times are ahead of us and we need to prepare as much as possible. Just things that have been on my mind.

    Reply
  8. cheryl says:

    So, could you do this with Bourbon as well? I use Nielson-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla in my baking, so would the Bourbon work as well? It takes the Death by chocolate cake up a notch, to slip a 1/2t. in there when mixing. Thanks for all you do!! We will all get through this! I have already been buying Christmas gifts since the end of January. Scored Land o’ Lakes club size boxes of Hot cocoa, assorted flavors for 3.91 a box for 34 packets in a box. Hello Christmas gift
    as they are good until 6/2021! Now just need to get them wrapped! ;0)

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      No. It’s not the same. The reference to “bourbon” comes from the type of vanilla bean. Madagascar bourbon … a type of vanilla bean, is cultivated and cured on the Bourbon Island of Madagascar. You need a neutral alcohol for the “extracting” process. Vodka. Use unflavored, plain vodka. Good job on that Christmas shopping!

      Reply
      • Renae says:

        It may not be the same, but I make mine with brandy instead of vodka, and let me tell you, it is fabulous! I call it branilla. 😀

  9. PEGGY HAYWARD says:

    I’m concerned about this only because my instant pot owners manual specifically stated not to make anything with alcohol in the instant pot because it could cause an explosion. Do you have any further insight on this?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes. Read the link to “tid-bits” in that post. However, you can skip the Instant Pot option … you have a full 6 months to do this the traditional way! It’s better anyway. Instant Pot is a last-ditch effort.

      Reply
  10. Jackie Chlebeck says:

    This is such a coincidence! I thought about making vanilla extract yesterday, but need ingredients. I have never made it, but hope to soon!

    Reply
      • Sheila Evans says:

        I have been reading your posts for several years, and have used many of your ideas, etc. I thank you for all your advice and help, but today, in light of what we are all facing in this country and the world, I want to thank you sincerely for your thoughts in the beginning of today’s post. These are things that we all need to concentrate on now. We WILL get through this together. Thanks again.
        Sheila

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