Q.: A friend gave me a lot of vanilla beans. How can I make homemade vanilla out of them?
— T.P., Wadsworth
A.: You can make pure vanilla extract from vanilla beans by using vodka.
Here is a recipe for how to do it from Kevin West’s book Saving the Season ($35, hardcover, Alfred Knopf):
1 oz. vanilla beans (seven or eight beans)
1 cup vodka
Split the beans lengthwise. Scrape the seeds or “caviar” with the edges of a knife, and put the paste in a scalded pint jar. Chop the beans into inch-long segments. Add them to the jar. Pour in the vodka. Seal the jar and put in a cool, dark place.
Shake the bottle every few days. The extract will be ready to use within a month, and will reach full strength at 6 months. At that point, you can strain the extract through a damp coffee filter and bottle it, preferably in a brown or green bottle, to block light.
Use the extract as a one-to-one replacement in recipes calling for vanilla extract. It will keep indefinitely. You can use the vanilla beans for a second extraction. Alternately, you can leave the beans in the extract and top off the jar with fresh vodka as you use the extract.
Got a food question? Lisa Abraham has the answer. Call 330-996-3737; email her at email@example.com with “Ask Lisa” in the subject line; or write to her at 44 E. Exchange St., P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640. Please include your name (initials will be printed on request), hometown and phone number.