The Vanilla Legacy

Many people leave their kids money and property. While I plan to leave both of those things to my children in the hopefully far-distant future when I depart this earth, one of the legacies I hope my daughter will treasure most is the bottle of Endless Vanilla.homemade vanilla extract

Nearly 20 years ago, my husband was trying to figure out what to do with some bottles of Crown Royal gathering dust in our basement. He had received the Canadian whiskey as holiday gifts when he was an auto racing writer. He didn’t drink the stuff, and none of our friends did.

“Hmm,” I said. “I bet it would make great vanilla.”

And thus the vanilla tradition was born. I sliced open some vanilla beans, dumped them in a bottle of the whiskey, shook up the bottle and waited a couple of weeks. The resulting vanilla extract was mellow and lovely.

I call it Endless Vanilla because, in 20 years, I have never run out of vanilla from that bottle. That bottle of vanilla has moved with me from Illinois to Colorado and back to Illinois. Endless Vanilla has flavored hundreds of Christmas cookies, the pound cake I sent to my sister for her birthday, the brownies I took to the family reunion, the buttercream for my sister’s wedding cake.

Someday, I hope my daughter will pull out Grandma’s Endless Vanilla and show my grandchildren how to carefully measure out just enough vanilla to flavor those brownies for the family reunion.

Here’s how to start a bottle of your own Endless Vanilla.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • 2 cups (16 ounces) bourbon, whiskey, brandy, or rum
  • 3 to 4 vanilla beans (see note)

Either use the bottle the liquor came in (pour out enough liquor to leave a couple of inches of space at the top), or pour the liquor into a clean bottle with a tightly fitting cap.

With a small, sharp knife, cut each vanilla bean in half crosswise, the slit each half lengthwise and open it slightly to expose the seedy pulp. Add the vanilla beans to the liquor. Cap the bottle and shake well.

Let stand for at least 10 days, shaking the bottle occasionally, or until the vanilla is dark and fragrant. Store in a cool, dark place.

Note: I often use all or partly Tahitian vanilla beans because they are plumper and have more seeds than other vanilla beans. Bourbon vanilla has a richer vanilla flavor, though. For the best vanilla, I use Tahitian and Bourbon vanilla beans in the same batch.

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