Thanksgiving is behind us and out here on the East Coast, December is less than an hour away. Sounds to me like a fine time to start talking about homemade, edible gifts (well, as long as you’re prepping for Christmas. For those of you starting your Hanukkah celebrations tomorrow night, well, I’ve failed you miserably).
Now, I know that lots of you spent the summer putting up luscious jams, vivid jellies and puckery pickles to tuck into boxes and baskets. However, I have my suspicions that there are more than a few folks out there just beginning to think about how to cover their gift giving bases. I can empathize, as I am a known procrastinator and truly, if it weren’t for my canning habit, I’d be perpetually stuck for hostess and holiday gifts.
However, there is hope. One easy, lovely holiday gift that you can get started now and will be ready in plenty of time for Christmas/New Year’s giving is homemade vanilla extract. It’s an amazingly easy thing to do and people are mightily impressed when you present them with a ribbon-wrapped bottle.
Making vanilla extract is as simple as splitting eight or nine beans (although even more is better) and dropping them into a bottle of vodka. Now, I realize that vanilla beans can be a bit spendy. However, if you buy them bulk the price drops impressively. I have found that you can get them on eBay in bundles of 12, 15, 30 or more beans for just a few bucks. Team up with a few friends, order a pound and suddenly whole vanilla beans won’t feel like such a rare commodity anymore.
I like to let the beans steep for at least a couple of weeks before pouring the now-infused booze into the regular-mouth half pints jars. I typically include at least one bean in per jar (though two is even better) that I’m gifting and I like to top each one off with a bit of dark rum, to balance the sharpness of the vodka.
It’s nice to add a tag to the jar before giving it as a gift, instructing the recipient that as they use it, they can keep topping it off with vodka or rum to extend the extract. Eventually the vanilla bean will surrender the entirety of its fragrant virtue, but it can refresh several rounds of booze quite happily.
Updated: Many of you have gotten in touch to say that you don’t think that a couple of weeks is long enough to fully develop the extract flavor. And while I’ve always managed to get good vanilla flavor in that time, I do understand that results can vary. If you don’t think the vanilla extract is sufficiently vanilla-y when the gift exchanges arrive, you can still bottle it up and give it away. Just let your recipients know that it may need a bit more time to get appropriately fragrant and flavorful. Asking people to wait prior to use does nothing to the thoughtfulness and eventual utility of the gift.