Homemade Vanilla Extract

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I live in the last house on a one-sided dead-end street, adjacent to a cemetery. Every year, on the first morning the geese return to that cemetery in all their squawking glory, I know it has officially begun. No matter what the calendar says, fall has arrived. Without fail, and simultaneously, the air cools. The leaves turn. Early rising is met with a damp, church bell ringing, reach-for-your-thick-Pats-socks-and-sweaters reminder summer is over. It’s invigorating. It’s go-time!

Soon we’ll be in the throes of the holiday season. Here, that means baking. More than the usual amount of baking. I make homemade vanilla extract in double batches because I do not dare risk running out. For the vodka, I use the cheap stuff. If you happen to have a water filter pitcher at home, and the patience, you can pour the entire bottle of vodka into the machine–exactly as you would water–and let it filter.

You’d have to repeat this process about five times. See why you’d need patience? And you would want to use a filter that was nearing its end, and then only for the vodka. This process makes sense to me for homemade extracts and liqueurs because I use so much of it. Feel free to spend a little more on the “middle shelf” stuff.

When one bottle of extract is nearly through, I make another batch using the same bottle, leaving the beans from the previous batch in addition to the new beans–8 to 10 this time, for an even stronger vanilla extract. You’ll only do this once though, as all of the flavor from the first batch will be extracted. You can allow used beans to air dry and add them to a jar of vanilla for vanilla-scented sugar. Or grind up dried, used beans and mix the ground up beans into a jar of sugar for a more robust vanilla sugar.

Feel free to remove the beans entirely once the vanilla extract has fully steeped. I like to allow a full two months for an extract unlike anything you can buy. I wouldn’t short on potential here. You can pour the finished product into smaller bottles to give as gifts.


You can use any variety or mix of vanilla beans and quality you like. I used a mix of Bourbon Madagascar for its boldness, and what was left of my years’ old Tahitian beans for their slightly sweet and floral notes. Vanilla beans are expensive, but there are sources online where you can find them reasonably priced in bulk and fair trade. I would not recommend buying them from the grocery store.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

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10-12 Vanilla Beans
16 Ounces (2 cups) of Vodka
Bottle large enough to hold 2 cups vodka, plus a little extra room for volume of beans

Recipe can be reduced to half.

Use a sharp knife to carefully split vanilla bean pods down the middle. You can leave tops intact or split the bean entirely. Remove vanilla bean seeds from pods with knife. Add both seeds and pods to jar. Carefully fill with vodka. Store in cool, dark place. For the first two weeks, give your bottle a shake the one time you think of it a couple of times each week. Your extract will be ready to use as its height in about 8 weeks. Shake before each use so that your vanilla seeds dance around and distribute throughout the contents of bottle.

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