Making Vanilla

While 2019 and 2020 will forever be known as the Years of Covid, 2022 is shaping up to be the Year of Inflation. While gasoline gets most of our focus, one lesser known commodity subject to inflationary pressures is vanilla extract. This has always been expensive, but as with many other things, it's getting even more expensive. A 16-ounce bottle of McCormick All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract now costs $35.90 on Amazon, and a 32-ounce bottle of Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Extract can be bought for $101.50. (Note that the latter comes in a gift box if you feel it might make an appropriate present for a baker you love.)

Because Mary and I love to bake cookies, vanilla is an essential ingredient . . . but help is on the way! For Christmas our daughter gave us the wherewithal to make our own vanilla extract. It turns out to be a rather simple process. All you need are glass bottles, vanilla beans, and a secret ingredient (to be named shortly). You split the vanilla bean (ours are from Madagascar and are also available through Amazon), put it in the bottle (we were given 8-ounce bottles), and add—wait for it—70 proof vodka. It's true. I checked our "regular" bottle of store-bought vanilla and found it was 35% alcohol—in other words 70 proof. Even with expensive vodka you can slash the price per ounce of vanilla extract.

The other "ingredient" is of course time. We started making two bottles on December 30th of last year, so it's been steeping for almost three months. Another three months should make it appropriately "ripe"--and at that time we'll start to make two more bottles. Perhaps by December we'll not only have provided our own vanilla for baking but will also have Christmas presents for fellow bakers.