Monday, February 1, 2010

Who Says Vanilla is Plain?

Day 32.

I used to be able to rely on the day of the month to tell me which day I was on in my year-long challenge to cook everything from scratch. Not anymore! Now I have to rely on my memory. Uh oh.

So I was thinking, and it occured to me that I can make pretty much anything at home, instead of buying it at the store. There are many more convenience items in the grocery store than we often thing of. Beef jerky. That's easily made at home with a good cut of lean beef, some seasoning, and a slow oven. Shredded cheese. If you don't have a food processor, please get a Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupon, or some store's coupon, and go buy yourself a good food processor. Buying cheese in blocks and shredding it yourself is such a huge money saver, and the food processor makes it almost effortless. It takes me less than five minutes to shred a 3 pound block of cheese.

Another convenient item that we don't give much thought to is vanilla extract. All that's in vanilla extract is vanilla bean and hard liquor...and sweetener if you buy it at the store. It's super easy to make your own vanilla extract, and it's so much cheaper than buying it premade. Here's the breakdown:

Store-bought real vanilla extract: $7.99 for 2 ounces ready-made extract

Homemade vanilla extract: $7.49 for one vanilla bean at Publix (local grocery store) - You'll need three beans for a batch of extract ($22.47), plus $6 for the cheap vodka that comes in a plastic bottle. You don't need the good stuff for this project. Total cost - $28.49.

But wait.

If you buy your beans in bulk online, you get a much better price. I just bought 15 beans for under $20 at The Boston Vanilla Bean Company. But let's go with simplicity and use the Publix price.

When you make homemade vanilla extract, you don't make two ounces. You make eight ounces per batch. Let's do the math:

Vodka = $6 for just over 25 oz -- 3 new batches' worth.

So the vodka cost is $2 per batch.

Vanilla = $22.47 per batch if bought locally.

Total cost per batch $24.47.

Cost per 2 ounces of homemade vanilla extract = $5.62

Cost when purchased ready-made = $7.99

Savings for the first batch = $2.37

But wait. There's more.

Vanilla extract isn't a one time only event! Once your batch is complete, and you start using it, you can replenish it by topping it off with more liquor! You just keep topping off, and occasionally, you add a new vanilla bean, and you keep your supply of vanilla going endlessly. The savings increase more and more over time.

So try making your own vanilla extract. Not only does it save money -- it's also really, really neat, and it has the added benefit of needing very little hands-on time! Impress your friends with a gift of homemade vanilla extract presented in a little bottle with a bit of ribbon or raffia tied around the neck. Maybe you could even print out homemade labels for your blend.

To make your own:

Slit three vanilla bean pods lenghtwise to expose the beans. Put them at the bottom of a glass jar that has a lid.I used a Ball canning jar. Add 1 cup hard liquor (vodka, rum, bourbon). Shake gently. Cover securely. Set the jar in a dark cabinet somewhere. Every now and then, give it a gentle shake. It's ready to use in 8 weeks.

Don't forget: When you're using it,remember to top off the liquor now and then, and add a fresh bean a few times a year (depending on how often you use it).

Here is my batch of vanilla extract on day one. I'll be back to update it as the weeks go on.
And here it is a week later. Already, it's taking on a beautful amber color.

And here it is, well past 8 weeks old. I've been using it and adding more beans and vodka to it for a couple weeks now!


Andrea said...

I've been thinking about making my own vanilla extract for a while now. Reading your blog has given me the motivation to FINALLY do that :-) I get vanilla beans from my health foods store for about $3 each, looks like I'll be visiting them this weekend :) Can't wait to see how the extract progresses!

Anonymous said...

Is that extract ready for it's final picture yet??

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