Thursday, March 17, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Did you know that Imitation Vanilla Extract (synthetic vanillin) was actually a waste by-product of paper manufacturing.  I just wikied this to make sure that it was accurate as it's been a few years since I originally researched it.  I'm glad I did because I discovered that "subsequent developments in the wood pulp industry have made its lignin wastes less attractive as a raw material for vanillin synthesis."  But "In October 2007 Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan won an Ig Nobel Prize for developing a way to extract vanillin from cow dung."   Ummm...  yeah.   That somehow makes it better.

I also spent the last few years believing, erroneously, that store-bought, Pure Vanilla Extract might possibly contain gluten depending on the type of alcohol used to distill the vanilla. I'm glad to find out that distilled alcohol, no matter the grain, is gluten-free.

One thing I was not wrong about though, Pure Vanilla Extract is kinda expensive.

But, did you know that making your own, dung-free, gluten-free, vanilla extract is super easy? It's true, I kid you not.

First you'll need a bottle of vodka. You can make any amount you wish but for simplicity I make mine right in the vodka bottle.  If you are going to do it this way you will need at least 6 vanilla beans.

Elise at Simply Recipes has a nice post about the process, along with a link to a lovely write-up by Garret at Vanilla Garlic about the different varieties of vanilla beans.

This is my Home Made Vanilla Extract


I found my vanilla beans at the Whole Foods Market, but many local grocers now have a section dedicated to whole foods and may carry vanilla beans.  You can even order them on-line.

The bottle on the left is the one I am currently using.  I started it over a year ago.  The cost was around $20 and made around $60 worth of Pure Vanilla Extract.

The bottle on the right still contains beans that I can reuse.  I just have to get to the liquor store to buy the vodka to refill it.  I will do this about 2 months before the other runs out so it will be ready to use. Or I could add the used beans to a bag of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

I've also read a recipe that used Dark Rum in place of Vodka.  This would add some nice flavor to holiday baking. Linda commented on Elise's post to say that she uses brandy or cognac.

There's a possibility of great variety, but according to Laurie, a commenter on Elise's post, "Commercial vanilla extract is 35% alcohol- and if you really want to get as close as possible to the commercial extracts (so you can do a 1:1 subsititution in recipes), single-strength vanilla extract is 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans to one gallon of 35% alcohol."

It takes about 2 months to distill the first bottle, but I think it's worth it.  Enjoy ~

Monday, March 7, 2011

Off & Blogging

I remember our teachers in school trying to instill a love for writing in our young hearts.  Surely that's what they had in mind when they assigned essays and papers, poems and reports.  Our suspicion was that it was a strange form of torture.  But I'm now convinced that they had to have had a higher purpose in mind.

One of the assignments that teachers these days love to assign to their students is journaling.  The teacher may give the students an idea of what to write about, or leave it totally up to the student.  Just as long as they are getting something down on the page.  It is a great tool to get students practicing penmanship, sentence structure and creative thinking.

Over the course of my life I have started several journals.  I would write a couple of entries a week for about a month and then give up. My thoughts flowed so fast and writing (by hand) seemed so tedious. I was too impatient.   

When my children were born I vowed to make beautiful baby books for them.  My oldest was born in 1996 and that has yet to happen.  I did document each milestone and memory, moments sweet and not so sweet, with thousands upon thousands of photographs.  Thank God for creating people who were smart enough to invent digital cameras!  And I did jot cute quotes, and other memories and statistics down in a small notebook.  All with the goal of eventually sorting them out and building them into the wonderful mementos I had dreamed of.  I should have them done in time to share with my grandchildren [wink].

When I was younger I used to mentally write essays.  They never made it to paper however, and are now lost in the deluge of thoughts and worries that come with adulthood.  I fancied writing a mystery novel, but seeing as how I can never solve one that I am reading, I don't think I would be able to come up with a very intriguing  plot.  It would be too simply solved.  Several years ago, when our family doctor suggested a gluten-free diet for my husband, I started experimenting to come up with my own pancake recipe.  At that time I would stand at my kitchen counter, mixing a cup of this and a spoonful of that, planning the cookbook I would one day write.  But, alas, that pancake recipe was my 1st and my last.  A cookbook with one recipe would not likely be a best seller.

So here I am.  Starting off on a new adventure.  The more I learn, the curiouser I get. And I'm looking forward to where my curiosity takes me.

BTW:  If you can read this, thank a teacher.

And, if a parent (or other guardian) taught you to read, you were homeschooled.  Even if it was only until you started Kindergarten.

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