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.

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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!


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  1. Jennifer Stevens says:

    So what if you didn’t stir or shake for long periods of time? And worst of all when I tasted extract today it only tastes like vodka! Help Mary! My mom made this recipe in May 2016 it turned out fabulous then again in January 2017. I found it maybe 6-7 months later hidden in a dark place, tasted it and shook it every month for a year or so but forgot about it till today. I shook it and then tasted it. Yuck I’m soooo sad. Can you help me?
    Vanilla extract lover,
    Jennifer Jean

    Reply
  2. Sarah says:

    Hi Mary. You say that you use 32 ounce jars, but call them 2 quart jars. Are you actually using quart jars, or the 2 quart ones, which are 64 ounces? I just started my vanilla extract today, hopefully it’ll be good by Christmas!

    Reply
  3. Ann Sauvage says:

    HI: I would have to say that many of Us had Parents that lived through the Great Depression and have learned something from them. I came across in my library a Cook book with Recipes and how they made it with little that they had and they survived.
    Our local Town restaurants are offering Take out, Pricey, But fast food chains are still offering Drive up take out with Dollar menu items for a Dollar, I got a Hamburger for $1.00 this week.
    I also found an interesting meal to make, Bigos is a Polish Hunter stew, I had left over Kelbasa from Easter and cut it up,put in Kidney beans with cut up baby carrots and let slow cook for 8 hours in my Crock Pot, Came out good and was a different meal. Stay Safe.

    Reply
  4. Terri says:

    I love your ideas and advice. I have been reading your posts for years
    I have a question regarding making the vanilla. I bought the beans, the vodka and the bottles u suggested. I’m confused you mention 25 beans but That you put 30 in a 2qt jar. I want mine to come out right and wonder which one is correct? Also their is no weight listed on the bean package. Typically is one pkg of 25 beans one ounce? Which would be for one batch?

    Reply
  5. Teri says:

    Mary, the homemade vanilla is a great idea, however, I won’t be expecting to celebrate Christmas this year as more than likely another round of it COVID 19 will be going around in the fall/winter months. (Dr. Fouci, does not expect a vaccine until next spring). posted 4/8/20

    Reply
  6. Karen Dick says:

    Mary, wanted to check on the vodka to vanilla bean ratios between the InstaPot recipe and this shake recipe. I tried the InstaPot recipe last Christmas and the vanilla was “weak”. Didn’t hand it out, still have the jars aging. Just checking. Looks like the recipe above calls for 30 beans per 64oz of Vodka. The InstaPot recipe is 6-8 beans per 32 oz of Vodka. This is half as much vanilla. My math and conversions are rusty and I have been thru this several times. Wanted to check and see what I’m missing. Thanks tons!

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Karen this is not an exact science. Vanilla beans vary greatly in size—both in length and plumpness. So I suggest you rescue the weak vanilla by adding more vanilla bean pieces … make sure they are sliced open so the beans can be released into the liquid. Shake regularly! You can put your calculator into time-out on this project. Your eyes and sniffer will be much better gauges. Also for IP vanilla to be ready in a week will need more vanilla to vodka than the batches you might be making now… 8 to 9 months out Hope that helps!

      Reply
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