Do you see how dark that liquid is, in the bottle above? Well, that used to be clear vodka!! That color is what happens when you add a bunch of split vanilla beans to a bottle of clear vodka and let is sit (shaking every few days, if you remember) for over 6 months. I think the bottle above was about 8 months old when I took the photo. The bottle used to be full.... that's how much vanilla extract I use in 8 months! ;) All of those little specks on the bottle are vanilla bean specks.
I don't drink alcohol for religious reasons, but I'm just fine buying it and making my own vanilla. I LOVE this stuff!! And I love making it, and having a few bottles (3, now!) in my cupboards, "brewing", at all times, so I can always have access to tons of the good stuff (that would be vanilla extract, people). I have two bottles of vodka vanilla extract and one bottle of rum vanilla extract. Since I don't usually buy alcohol and don't which stuff is good, I just buy whatever looks good; I don't get the most expensive one.
I got this method from Eating, Etc, (where else?!) and she re-bottles her extract into cute little bottles. They're also dark, which is ideal. I don't have access to the tiny bottles, and I also had a hard time finding a big dark bottle to use, so I just use a big, clear bottle, and keep in a dark cupboard. You just don't want too much exposure to light. The first picture is actually an older Trader Joe's balsamic vinegar bottle, well-washed out. The second and third time I made up a batch of this, I just got super-lazy and stuck the vanilla beans right into the original vodka or rum bottle. That seems to work just as well! I did buy a bag of new corks though, to fit the top of my bottles, so they'd be air-tight.
I'll include the method, or reicpe from Eating, Etc, but here's the ghetto version of what I do: Buy a fairly cheap bottle of vodka or clear rum at a local store. Come home, and pop off that plastic stopper that might be in the neck of your bottle. (A small, sharp knife works well to get in there and pop it out). Split a bunch of vanilla beans, (10-15 or so) and shove them in the bottle. Fit the bottle with a new, clean cork, shake it up, and let it hang out in your dark kitchen cupboard forever, shaking as often as you remember. Ready to use after 30 days. I think this stuff lasts forever, too. Alcohol is a preservative, so the vanilla beans should be fine as long as they're always submerged.
Below: Left-hand corner; my 8-month old bottle. Center; a bottle about 5 months old. Right; a brand-new batch that I hadn't shaken up yet; hence, the clear color.
2c vodka (or rum for a vanilla-rum extract)
8+ good quality vanilla beans, split & snipped in ½” pieces
smaller dark-colored bottles for final bottling*
1) Pour vodka or rum into wine bottle.
2) Place split, snipped vanilla bean pieces in the vodka or rum.
3) Cork & shake well.
4) Let sit for approximately 30 days, shaking the bottle, daily, to distribute the tiny vanilla seeds well for maximum flavor. (This is very forgiveable; even if you don’t shake it that often, it still turns out fine.)
5) After 30 days, begin using; or for gifts, bottle the extract in small dark-colored glass bottles.
6) You may strain the extract to remove the vanilla pod pieces, if you wish. I just leave it as is, though, with the vanilla bean seeds and pieces in the bottle to attain maximum strength & flavor.
** Once the vanilla extract is used up, don't throw out your vanilla bean pieces! They are reusable. Just refill your bottle(s) with more vodka or rum, shake it up, and let it sit again.
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