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Oh you sweet succulent fragrance of vanilla, how you fill my life!

Vanilla beans in a bag

Seriously... who doesn't like the smell of vanilla. I'm sure even Jeffrey Dahmer has the same appreciation for vanilla as Betty White -- hell, I'll go as far as Betty Crocker! Tangent -- Betty White is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend with Jay-Z --- whattttttt? Awesome.

So back to the main focal point of this entry. Vanilla! More specific, vanilla extract!

Are you ever stuck wondering what to get your mother for Christmas -- that same mother that you buy spa gift certificates for, but doesnt use them? Whos that same mom that would always make you give her a foot massage during X-Files or a back massage? How about the father that as soon as he sees something on any infomercial he has already ordered it on the phone or the internet before the first airing of the commercial is finished? It's hard. No, its damn near impossible. You're stuck poking and prodding for that hint of what might be useful, and until recently for my father, my little brother and sister were about as useless as asking a bag of sugar what to get him as a gift (hey, they were young and focus their life on video games and whether or not to eat that juicy booger or not!).

So here I am. 25 and single. Nothin goin on but a small loft in Atlanta and a couple of cats. I mean, if I wanted to add to that another level of lameness, why not MAKE MY OWN VANILLA. Well, I'm going there. It gives me something to spend 5 minutes a day on -- kind of like how I can now watch the tomatoes, peppers, garlic chives and broccoliiiiiiiiiiiiii I planted grow from seeds!

Thus, I proceeded with the grueling task of internet research on how to make my own vanilla extract -- alright, that was sarcasm. I found two reviews on how to do it and figured I had the gist, and it was time to start my adventure.

Essentially... this is what you need:

  1. A knife - paring or razor. Something sharp, people!
  2. A butter knife, or back of your paring knife
  3. Cutting surface (something you can wash)
  4. A bottle of booze! Vodka... brandy... Quality doesnt matter, apparently. Your store bought extract is booze, fyi. 40% by volume (80 proof)
  5. Maybe some empty beer bottles you can reseal, or some wine bottles. Easiest way, buy a few half pints or pints of alcohol and put the beans directly in the bottle!
  6. Vanilla beans (raw, unprocessed, organic or not is up to you (even though organic is a crock) For every pint of alcohol, you need ~30 beans (.1# worth, but more the merrier)
  7. 1-6 months of mild attention (aka, dont forget its in the cupboard!)

Pretty simple... right? Wait til I describe and show you what to do... its sad.

So... when I help people on the phone with their computers, I always start with this: DO NOT THINK FOR YOURSELF! DO EXACTLY, TYPE EXACTLY, AND CLICK EXACTLY WHERE I SAY! -- They agree, but they never do. I should have them sign a contract and when they break it I can charge them double for wasting double my time. So ya... See above for rule: DO NOT THINK FOR YOURSELF! DO EXACTLY, TYPE EXACTLY, AND CLICK DO EXACTLY WHERE I SAY!

How to make vanilla extract (according to multiple websites, since mine arent done yet):

  • You need to gather a cutting surface and the rest of your ingredients

  • Start by taking each bean and slicing longways down the bean. Now, the trick here (its easy, I promise) is to flip your knife upside down so the blade is facing up. Poke the tip through the skin, and slide it up the bean. It gets super easy as you develop a rhythm. Make sure you do not cut all the way through the bean (this is why you're using the tip of the knife, and holding the bean)

If you enlarge this pic, you'll see all the yummy caviar you get to scrape out. Notice how the bean is 'opened' and not cut 100% of the way through!

  • Once all beans are cut longways 50% through, cut each bean in half! If you over think this and question as to what you're supposed to do, you're an idiot and shouldnt continue...
  • Once beans are cut in half, go to the end of the bean that isnt sliced through (inevitably, most of the time the tips of the beans havent been sliced since you stuck the knife in on one side, and probably didnt make it to the end of the bean all the way. You want to lay on the board, spread the bean by the uncut tip, and slide the back of the paring knife or the back of a butter knife at a 45 degree angle into the meat of the bean. This scrapes out all of the "caviar" (essentially the actual beans from the pod)

This picture is post scrapage, essentially just lift the knife to a 45 degree angle and slide in direction the bean is opened in

  • Set all the caviar to the side in a pile (do not discard!) and continue cleaning out all the beans

  • Once all beans are cleaned, chop into ~1inch pieces
  • At this point, you'll want to dump out some of the alcohol into a glass. Ideally, the glass should be boiled/steamed to clean it so you dont expose bacteria, but, go at it how you wish. The reason for this, is you're about to stick the bean pods and caviar into the bottle, and it WILL overflow if you do not empty some due to displacement.

  • Dont be surprised, as step 7 said, you're now going to the bean pod pieces and caviar into said bottle of alcohol
  • Once most of the bean parts are in, top off with alcohol. You want everything to remain covered or it will dry out!
  • Let it sit...
  • At this point, you're supposed to give a vigorous shaking every day for the first week. Give it a smell -- mmmm
  • Week 2,3, and 4, shake a few times a week now.
  • Week 5 is when you apparently have raw vanilla extract -- albeit extremely raw!
  • Month 2 to 6, shake it whenever you remember
  • At 6 months, they say you are supposed to filter it. Do this with a coffee filter and filter it into a clean glass/bottle
  • Give it away!

Here is my half pint vodka filled with ~.1# of beans

I think this is pretty cool... Vanilla growers tattoo their beans so you can identify them. It looks like discoloring due to bugs or something, but this is the tattoo!

Oh, and save your beans when you pull them out! Let them dry back out, and stick into your bag or sugar, or jar, however you store it. You now have your own vanilla sugar! mmmmmmmmmm

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