Sometimes we think that putting up food is all about canning, drying, and freezing. But there are items that compliment our foodstuffs that we can also put up for the lean times of the year. Items like extracts, wines, and vinegars are a few things that many people don’t realize they can make at home and easily!
Now that baking season is upon us, I’m taking advantage of vanilla beans being on sale and making some of my own vanilla extract. This is such a simple process – the hardest part is waiting for it to be finished!
First off, since I’m a little frugal I buy inexpensive vodka and run it through my water filter pitcher to get all of the impurities out of it. The result is a smoother flavor that won’t put as much hair on your chest, or empty your pocketbook like the more expensive brands. Just make sure you run a small amount of your alcohol through the purifier to clear out any lingering water so your vodka doesn’t get watered down. On the same note, run several cups of water through your purifier after you’ve filtered alcohol or that glass of water you drink later may just get you drunk.
The good recipes call for 6 whole vanilla beans, split and scraped per one cup of 75-80 proof vodka. Don’t skimp out on the beans – you need the potency of the vanilla and the alcohol to meet the standards of an extract, unless you’d rather be making your desserts with vanilla flavored vodka. (Here’s a good resource for the types of beans available and their best uses.) Put the whole bean in the liquid, including the seeds, and let it steep for at least 4 weeks; store it in a dark spot and give it a good shake every now and then. As you empty the bottles into something more decorative or practical, reserve the seeds and beans and top of your jar with fresh liquor, then re-steep for several weeks. Now that weaker stuff you made last year may taste good in a winter-themed martini….
As crazy as it sounds, one can get tired of vanilla flavored goodies. This summer I had a great harvest of mints. Instead of making dried teas, I’m making some homemade mint extract using a similar technique. I took a large bunch of mints, washed and dried them, then gently bruised them with my fingers to release some of the oils. I then topped the mints with my purified vodka. Don’t pack the jar with mint, you want some room for circulation. Let steep for 3-4 weeks, then strain the leaves and any sediment. The result will be a brownish tincture. If the color puts you off, you may consider adding some vegetable-based food coloring.
Now, if you want something that doesn’t have a brown tinge to it, you’ll want to follow a more scientific process of extracting the oils from the herbs. Here is the best site I’ve seen yet that explains this process. But if you’re really in a hurry and need your flavoring, like now… then try this method. Yeah, I get a little geeky sometimes. Up next for me, by the way, is homemade bitters and meyer lemon extract!!
Here’s hoping I’ve helped some of you out there to think beyond the cans and dried goods! After all this chatting I know I’m craving a nice vanilla libation.
Jennifer can also be found at Unearthing this Life where’s she’s soon to blarg about all the snow she’ll experience in Michigan.