A couple of weeks ago on the very same day I heard from two friends (you know who you are Andrea and Carolyn) letting me know that they’d made perfect homemade Christmas gifts of Homemade Madagascar Vanilla, and to rave reviews! Of course, I ate up all the love and great feedback. But I wasn’t surprised. I keep a big bottle of the stuff in my pantry and reach for it several times a week. It is amazing. And as a gift, homemade pure vanilla extract is elegant, unique, and simply lovely.
If you’re thinking of making gifts this holiday season, you’ll find complete instructions, links and labeling ideas below. Check the calendar and you’ll see that you have no time to waste. This high-quality pure vanilla extract requires time to brew.” But first, I want to let you know about the homemade gift I am auditioning for this coming holiday season.
Slightly more complicated to make than Madagascar Vanilla Extract (which is ridiculously easy), I’m almost certain this year’s Bacon Onion Jam is going to hit it out of the ballpark. I’m still refining the recipe, figuring out costs and searching for the best resources for the ingredients plus jars and labels.
Bacon Onion Jam is decadent and exactly the kind of gift I love to give. This jam is so versatile—tastes great on just about anything. You can use it as a sandwich spread, in quesadillas, pour it over cream cheese and serve with crackers; spread it inside grilled cheese sandwiches, offer it as a condiment for hamburgers, hot dogs, steak and chicken; as a unique pizza topping. Or just skip all of that and eat it straight out of the jar. Speaking of jars, I’m searching for round, adorably squatty jars, perfect labels and mailing boxes, too.
Stay tuned because next week, I’ll be sharing the winning recipe, resources, tips and everything else you’ll need to follow along if you’re in the mood to get started early on awesome Christmas gifts!
[UPDATE: Since publishing this post in 2015, I’ve learned a lot about food preservation—especially when it comes to canning protein like meat and bacon. It’s not the same as pressure canning fruit or vacuum sealing beef jerky. While the Bacon Onion Jam turned out fabulously—so delicious and what a hit with everyone who has tasted it—even if vacuum-sealed in a Mason jar or pressure canned in the traditional way, it must be refrigerated. Period. That precludes sending it through the mail, no matter how well it is packaged. For this reason, it is difficult for me to suggest Bacon Onion Jam as a great holiday gift, across the board. It is, but only for giving locally and when the label clearly states that it must be refrigerated.]
In the meantime, this post from 2013 will give you everything you need to know to make Homemade Madagascar Vanilla Extract.
The Perfect Homemade Holiday Gift
Every year about this time I start scrambling for gift ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. I have criteria. The gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, it needs to be affordable.
Faithful readers will recall that I made Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract, as pictured above.
What you, my dear readers were not aware of is that life being what it is, I didn’t get around to actually delivering my awesome little homemade gifts in time for Christmas. Thankfully, I have very understanding friends. No one seemed to mind.
My plan was to send out Ground Hog Day gifts instead. But then, well, it was nearly Valentine’s Day, so I shifted. I got cute red ribbon, figuring I could use the green raffia another time.
But then I got to thinking about how lovely it would be to get Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract as a surprise Easter gift!
Do you have any idea how fast 2014 zoomed by? Just when I was thinking seriously about how to make these the cutest Thanksgiving gifts ever, I heard the bells of Christmas.
For the first time in my adult life, I have 24 beautiful homemade Christmas gifts all prepared and ready to go ahead of time. Before Thanksgiving! And aged. Oh, my.
I decided to open one of these babies just to make sure it is still fit for human consumption after all this time and let me tell you, Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract does not go bad. And now that I am doing quite a bit of testing (oh, yeah) I am learning that for once, age is on my side. This stuff is fantastic! Can you hear me? We’re talking some wonderful kind of baking and other sundry uses for Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract.
I have always preferred to do homemade gifts to deliver my love and best wishes for the Holiday Season (you know, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years, Kwanzaa, Festivus). And if I can weave into these messengers a small Wow! factor, well that’s a bonus.
I came up with this idea while cruising some of my favorite blogs. One idea sparked my memory and sent me scrambling for a book I wrote a long time ago, Cheapskate in the Kitchen. Sure enough, right there in the chapter “Cheapstitutes” is how to make homemade pure vanilla extract. Perfect!
Here’s the routine: Vodka + Vanilla Beans X 2 Months = Pure Vanilla Extract
Ingredients: Vodka and vanilla beans.
Yes, vodka …
… and vanilla beans.
You can use any cheap vodka. I just happened to have had this lovely blue bottle of Skyy. Really, the cheapest thing you can find will work just great. It’s the quality of the vanilla beans that determines the quality of the extract.
Vanilla Beans can be VERY pricey at the grocery store (however, when used in extract, you can keep using them almost indefinitely). If you plan to make more than one bottle of extract I suggest purchasing beans in bulk.
I used these Madagascar vanilla beans …
… and bottled my homemade vanilla extract in these very nice 4-oz amber glass bottles that came with black lids.
Here’s the simple process I used 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) and slice each vanilla bean in half horizontally. Then starting about 1/4″ from one end, slice each vanilla bean lengthwise. 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.
Put the vanilla bean pieces (including the snipped ends) into the canning jars. I needed a lot of vanilla extract, so I used two 2-quart jars with about 30 beans in each jar. Using a funnel, I poured vodka into each bottle completely covering the beans in the liquid, placed the lids on tightly and shook them very well. I shoved the jars into a cool, dark cupboard. Once a week I gave each jar a good shake to get those tiny seeds well distributed.
Everything I read said that the Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract would be ready to use as soon as 6 weeks. However, now I am wondering if it’s not better to let it age. I mean, I’ve had a full year now to consider this and the darker it gets, the more intense the vanilla flavor and fragrance. However, I would not hesitate at all to give gifts of 6- or 8-week old Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract. And I’d have fun with that tag message, too, suggesting that my recipient lovely shake the bottle every week or so to enjoy the beautiful aging process.
This is how it looks on Day One …
Day Three …
And Day Four …
After about 6 weeks, using a small funnel, I filled the gift bottles with extract. I add a nice piece of vanilla bean to each gift bottle so each would continue to intensify. The vanilla beans will remain amazingly potent almost indefinitely.
To finish off my 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.
The results are quite amazing if I do say so myself. Another idea I tried was kraft labels you see on the first photo above. There are so many options for labeling.
Before you ask, I’ll tell you that the small bottle of extract is a stand-in demo and yes it is bit larger than the 4-oz amber gift bottles.
The embellishment I’m using is this olive green raffia ribbon which I love.
I am so excited that I’ve figured out my homemade Holiday Gift for 2014! These sweet bottles of awesomeness will be easy to ship. And I have no doubt that my friends, neighbors and colleagues will be happy to finally hear from me because who doesn’t love high-quality, really good, Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract?
My best estimate is that these 24 bottles cost $4.50 per gift, complete. I believe I will 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 didn’t completely empty either of my big jars so that the beans that remained would be submerged. Now I have refilled 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.
Vanilla beans just keep on giving. And giving.