Monday, June 28, 2010

Make your own Vanilla Extract.

Having sworn off white sugar (any sugar really) and most all grains entirely, i like to know what is in the stuff i use.  I like to have vanilla in my homemade yogurt, but i found that many vanilla extracts available have sugar added or other unnecessary ingredients.  I don't really call myself a purist, but when i can control the ingredients of a thing and make it myself, i find it to be another fun project.

So i make my own Vanilla Extract.

Its super easy.  Just find yourself a good source of fresh beans (i suggest eBay, its where i got mine, there are good sellers there).

Depending on how much extract you want to make, you can buy as many as you want.
I happened to get a large batch of beans because i plan to use them for things besides extract and i plan to use the beans themselves as well as the extract i make as gifts.

This spread cost me under $30 including shipping. 

The recipe is simple,  about 6 beans per cup of extract. The only other ingredient is Vodka.  Smirnoff works well, it has the right balance of price and taste for my purposes.
I am making double strength extract so i can dilute it if i want or just have that extra rich flavor in my recipes. Regular recipes say 3-4 beans per cup of Vodka.

So i start by measuring the Vodka.
I have 12 relatives i plan to give the finished extract to for Christmas, so i need at least 24oz per batch.  I have two types of beans, Madagascar and Tahitian.  Madagascar extract is the most common type available, Tahitian is rare as an extract but it has distinctive different flavor.  So i am making a batch of each.
I want to have some left for myself so i am going to make 26 ounces of each.  So i needed 52oz of Vodka.  A 1.75 liter bottle gave me plenty with some left over.

Weighed for each jar:
 One pound, 10 ounces give or take.  (zero out the jar on the scale first)

That equals roughly 3 and one half cups
And for double-strength extract, that's 6 beans per cup.... 21 beans needed

Slit each of the beans lengthwise and scrape out the insides

Into the jar it goes. 

 Rough chop the rest of the bean and put it in the jar....  repeat 20 more times ;o)

Cover and shake.  

Here are the Tahitian beans:

A second jar, before shaking.
Allow to steep at room temperature out of direct sunlight.

This is what the jars look like after one night of steeping.

The extract needs to steep for at least 6 weeks.  The beans can be used about 3 times. I heard of people simply topping their jars off with fresh Vodka and adding the occasional bean.  The extract can last indefinitely since the Vodka's high alcohol content keeps things quite sterile.

Strain it through a fine mesh, bottle it and use like store-bought, or use it straight from the jar. The bean particles settle out of the way so you can do this.

I plan to purchase a number of  new 2 ounce glass bottles with dropper tops, i'll make a nice label to go on them and they should be a unique and useful gift. 

There are DIY Vanilla extract recipes out there that are non-alcohol. Usually the vodka is subbed with glycerine. Not the solid bar soap glycerin, but the liquid type. I have bought it at the pharmacy before, i used it to make bubble bath, lip balm and other homemade cosmetic items.I've never bought it for edible purposes but as far as i know the pure glycerin is safe to eat.  It is more pricey than Vodka.

The recipe i found for Non-Alcohol Vanilla Extract is:

12 oz Glycerin
4  oz warm water
2 Whole Vanilla Beans

Procedure is the same as the regular method, split, scrape and chop the beans into the liquids, keep in a glass jar, shake often. Should be ready to use after a month or so.  I'd probably double the bean bill. But that's me.

Rainy day today

And that is good, we need this nice soaking rain. Its been a firly decent year so far, generally warm with regular installments of rain at the right times.

I'm glad i got all the weeding done yesterday. I had to do it all at once or the pain will catch up with me. Last night my leg hurt so bad it almost made me sick to my stomach.  I'll have to try and take it easy the next few days.

Hubby went  ahead and bought me a Havahart trap yesterday after he saw what the beasts did to my horseradish plants. We baited it with the remains of a few of the broccoli plants that took the worst damage, we also tossed in a chunk of grocery store broccoli floret for good measure.  If i have to trap and relocate woodchucks all summer (or for the rest of my earthly existence) i'll be ok as long as we get them before they get my veggies.
I think i might be able to rely on the fence a little more now that i think i fixed the issue of the lower wire height.  It was too high from the ground on the far side.  The way my raised bed slopes was part of the problem there. The wire looked low enough, but the slope of the ground made a perfect gap that a 'chuck could slide right under without contacting the wire.  I was going to mound it up with dirt, but i knew that would not be solid enough so i took some scrap boards and set them just under the wire to fill that gap, since the boards are on the inside of the wire they can't be moved from beyond the wire and they can't be used to jump over.

My descriptive powers are not good, so:

and the hopeful fix:

I really hope i get it right this time!  There have been a few not-quite-ideal situations with this fence. The fence itself functions like it is supposed to, but my end of the bargain has been lacking.

First, relying on one strand was naive.  It was effective on the neighborhood dogs and cats but not on a determined predator of vegetables.

Second,  i should have used Roundup along the fence line in the first place, hubby didn't want me to but i convinced him it was necessary for the fence to work.  I should have just done it instead of letting my point become obvious.

Third, i should have paid much more attention to the contours  of the ground and how the slopes created wide gaps.

Fourth, i should have included the asparagus and horseradish bed in the protected area.  I didn't have enough wire from the original kit to run two strands around all of it, but hubby bought me 1/4 mile of wire  a few days later and i should have restrung it right then.  I plan to fix this mistake next chance i get.

If it turns out that the fence is effective after all the tweaking is complete i'll be thrilled.  If not, i'll still keep using it to keep the cats from using it as a litter box and the loose dogs from trodding down my veggies.  I do plan to use the trap continuously each year to try and keep numbers down.  We'll have to find a good place to relocate them where we won't be causing someone else the same trouble.

Best of all, if the fence finally works, i can stop blogging about woodchucks!!!

Soon i should be able to buy the mini fridge for storing my seeds so i can get rid of the boxes, trays and such that i store them in now. I'll also have to buy a bag of silica gel which i can get in the cat litter section of the pet store. 
If i can get the fridge set up the first week of July i can sort my seeds and start replacements for a fall crop.

I planted the cilantro seedlings out in the gaps left by badly germinating parsnips.  I also planted my peppermint next to the pepper plants,  a couple of the sweet and hot pepper plants shriveled and died earlier this spring so i just stuck the mint in there. I may regret planting my mint right in the garden like this since i hear it can get aggressive and invasive...  but i'm throwing caution to the wind this time.
I had some buttercrunch lettuce seedlings that spent too much time in their flat, but i planted them in the gaps left by the eaten broccoli.  I'll see what they do.

I have some perennial seedlings that need to be potted up, they are still lingering in the 9pack trays.  I have been saving gallon milk jugs to plant them in until i can put them in a permanent place...  i mentioned to hubby that i might be doing that for this week's projects (he's tired of seeing the flats sitting at the edge of the driveway collecting silt and i don't blame him, i'm not liking it either, i have to  drain the trays after every rain and they look messy), but judging by his lack of response when i mentioned that is what i had been saving the milk jugs for...i have a feeling my jugs took a trip to the town's "Transfer Station". Which will be a bit of a problem.  My other option is to  go to  the local nursery and see if they will let me have some of their  discarded nursery pots.  I have gotten pots from them before, a whole bag of assorted sizes.  If they still do it, it should be all i need.

The cuttings are still hanging on, some better than others.  I have at least 2 of each type that are not drying up or gotten fuzzy. They don't look like much, so i haven't taken pictures.
I have another Autumn Olive seed that has sprouted and needs to be potted up, the first one still hasn't broken the surface of the soil yet.  No luck with the other berry seeds from that eBay order.
The Goji seedlings are still alive, they must grow super slow because they haven't moved an inch  yet. I think they still have only their seed leaves.  I might try potting them up or planting them in the garden  for the rest of the year.  I read they are a bit weak their first year to overwinter so i might have to bring them indoors for the winter and maybe store them in the entry of the basement inside the bulkhead,  or i'll have to set up a place for them with lights.

The dog has decided to be a brat the last few days.  Her former owners used to let her lay on the furniture. I can't allow this personally, hounds have a smell and i can't deal with it on my furniture.  I have a nice chair that we allow her to use just for her and its in the living room with everyone else so its not like i am isolating her from the family. She just isn't allowed on the other two pieces of furniture. 
Well i kept smelling 'dog' when i sat on my couch with my morning coffee and it was annoying.  Then i started catching her on the couches when i woke up in the mornings before she did.  She'd get scolded and then directed to her chair.  At night i started laying the baby gates across the couches to keep her off them while we were asleep.  Well, Bassets can be spiteful creatures so she retaliated by peeing on my carpet.  After three nights of finding puddles and scolding her (she was taken outdoors for a pee break last thing before bedtime each night) i decided to gate her in the hallway by the side door with the baby gates. Its a 6'x4' area and its tiled, so i folded a blanket into a bed for her, put her in and gave her a small treat and said goodnight.  No pee this morning.
This will be done until i have the money to buy her  a kennel (soon). She used to be crate trained so i hope she takes to it again.  A dog with an at-will and overnight crate is a happier dog in my experience. She also needs an escape spot to go to for when our toddler starts pestering her.

I started the homemade Vanilla Extract last night. I'll post the 'how to do it' instructions & pictures later today or early tomorrow.  It is an easy project.