I love making and using my own vanilla extract! It is also a gift I enjoying sharing, one which is always well received.
I do not now remember where I first heard that I could make my own vanilla, but I do know I was quite intrigued by the idea of being able to have endless supplies of this most precious of elixirs.
To make your own vanilla you need a bit of patience, vanilla beans, and a base liquor. Most people prefer making vanilla from vodka, as it is flavorless; I however like using dark rum, enjoying the extra layer of flavor that it brings. I have also made it with bourbon, and think that works quite well.
The more vanilla beans you add the stronger the flavor will be, but vanilla beans can be expensive, so start with what you can afford, and continue to add to your base, the flavors continue to develop.
I have been using the same bottle of vanilla for well over twenty years. When my bottle gets to under the half way point, I add more vanilla beans and rum; only once did I remove a vanilla bean, in desperation, to make custard. You will want to make sure you keep the beans covered by liquor and that you initially let the bottle cure for about two months, before you begin to use it. Periodically, you will want to shake the bottle, mixing all of those little seeds. Also, you may want to think about having a back-up, so that when bottle is out of commission, curing, you can have access to the second bottle.
Vanilla Beans – three to six beans to start, one to three to refresh the bottle
Rum, Bourbon, or Vodka – enough to fill the bottle, all the way to the top
Time – at least two months
Clean the bottle you will be making your vanilla in, on a non-porous surface, split the vanilla pods, and scrape the tiny seeds into the bottle. Fill the bottle up with liquor, put on the lid, and give it a good shake, every three to four days for the first few weeks, and then once a week until it is cured.