Usually a recipe says to cut vanilla beans lengthwise and to scrape the sticky paste of seeds into the milk or cream or what have you. Sometimes the bean gets thrown in as well. But then, the recipe always says to remove the bean and discard or save for future use. Future use? Shall I recycle it as a bracelet? Or a Christmas ornament? What recipe calls for a scraped and withered vanilla bean? I'm so glad you asked. Scraped and withered they may be, but soaked in alcohol for a while, they create vanilla extract.
Fill a mason jar or bottle with vodka. After you use the seeds of a vanilla bean in a recipe, rinse off the vanilla bean and put it in the vodka. You’ll need at least 3 vanilla beans in there for at least 3 weeks to get a good extract going, but it’s fine to use more beans, too. Your extract is ready when it is a lovely brown color and it smells like vanilla.
Either pour the extract it into a new bottle and start over or keep topping off the working bottle with vodka and keep shoving more vanilla beans into the bottle. As long as you don’t let it get too empty, you can keep using the extract indefinitely even as you continue to top it off.
Store indefinitely at room temperature in a sealed container. Do not freeze.
Photo: Copyright © 2012 by Jennifer May
Reprinted from the book The Homemade Pantry by Alana Chernila. Copyright © 2012 by Alana Chernila. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.