Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mexico has awesome vanilla {but so do I}

When I lived State-side, I did a heck of a lot of baking. And most of the baking I did required vanilla. I had a hard time finding good vanilla in the stores where I lived, so my Momma always asked her parents to bring back a couple "green bottles" of vanilla from Arizona when they came to visit.

I don't remember what the name of that vanilla was, but I know it came from Mexico and that it was the good stuff. I mean, it was real vanilla. Someone could open the bottle in the kitchen and I'd be able to smell it from the other room. Everything I cooked with it tasted all the better and sometimes I would just open the bottle to take a whiff as I walked by.

Then I moved to Belgium.

First off, my mother-in-law is not a huge baker. She makes amazing crepes, and the occasional birthday cake, but that's about it. Needless to say, her pantry wasn't quite as stocked as mine was. And to say things were lacking in the vanilla department would be the understatement of the year.

She had vanilla sugar packets.

What? White sugar? In little paper packs? That tastes like vanilla?

Something had to be done, so I set off to the store in search of vanilla extract. I did end up finding a tiny little bottle that cost more than a HUGE bottle of the stuff back home did, but I bought it anyway. I mean, baking without vanilla extract just wasn't possible.

Once home, I opened it to take a whiff. As expected, I found a highly artificial smell emanating from the bottle, much akin to the fake stuff in the States. I got over my woes though, and gave in to baking with the artificial vanilla.

Then, I met a girl from America. From Texas, to be exact. Her mother was coming to visit her, and she asked me if there was anything I missed and would like her to bring over.

Texas. Texas shares a border with Mexico. Mexico has vanilla. I NEED VANILLA!

A small bottle I use for easy pouring... the older vanilla beans
waiting to be sorted... and the last bit in a jar, just waiting for
my sweet little cousin Manon to come and steal it away...
I sweetly asked her to pretty please bring over a bottle of real vanilla, a green bottle if she could, one that came from Mexico and of course that smelled delicious.

She came through, that angel, and I finally had a real bottle of vanilla extract! I baked my little heart out, carefully measuring out each drop so as to not waste a single bit of that precious liquid.

But alas, all good things must come to an end and I used up all my vanilla. Luckily for me, another friend of mine had been experimenting with making her own vanilla extract - using clear alcohol and real vanilla beans.

Sadly, she moved away, but as part of her parting gift, she gave me her bottle of vanilla. I like to think that a little bit of her original vanilla remains in what I have today, meaning I cook with her every time I open my bottle.

I have been making and using my own vanilla ever since, and have even managed to convert my mother-in-law and a cousin over to the real deal! And now I'm going to share my friend Daisy's method with you so you can enjoy your own, real vanilla extract!

(PS - I no longer measure carefully, I just pour with reckless abandon until it looks/smells right! There's always more of the good stuff now!)

Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • 1 bottle of strong alcohol, such as rum
  • 3-4 vanilla beans
  1. Slice the vanilla beans down their center and open slightly with your fingers.
  2. Drop the beans into the bottle of alcohol and seal tightly, shaking well.
  3. Store in a dark, cool place for at least 3 months before using. Shake contents of the bottle when you think about it.

As you use up your vanilla, you can simply add more alcohol over the top. After I've used about two bottles of alcohol, I like to start again in a new bottle, transferring the old beans into the new bottle, removing any that have gone soft. I also add 1-2 new beans, just to keep the flavor strong.

Feel free to experiment with flavors: use beans from different countries as well as different types of alcohol. A rum or vodka based vanilla will have a neutral taste, while a different alcohol will add a more complex layer of flavor to your extract. I recently made a bottle of Bourbon whiskey with Greek vanilla beans my in-laws brought back from vacation for me. Just have fun with it!


  1. I finally made some today :) they had vanilla beans at lidl! So I grabbed 8 of them :D it is so beautiful inside when you cut them in half! Waaaaaaw. Thank you for this recipe ��

    1. Yay for you and vanilla! Happy waiting :P