Vanilla suffers typecasting as ordinary. In software, it’s vanilla versus custom. In finance, it’s vanilla versus exotic. In the bedroom, it’s vanilla versus kinky.
But vanilla hardly counts as plain.
Consider her bio: Vanilla comes from Mexico, and though she has traveled as far as Madagascar, she can only fruit naturally back home. Consider her habits: She unfurls a tiny green-white flower for a single day, during which she is visited by her suitor, a rare bee — or perhaps a hummingbird. Vanilla doesn’t kiss and tell.
Vanilla’s slender pods, dried and cured, release an intoxicating perfume: lush, floral and generous. Chemists can copy vanillin — the one-note blast at the center of the flavor. But no one can conjure the full symphony — some 400 subtle scents — that make up true vanilla.
That’s not plain; it’s plainly astounding.
Prep: 10 minutes. Wait: 3 weeks. Makes: Six 4-ounce (or twelve 2-ounce) bottles
15 Bourbon or Madagascar vanilla beans *
1 bottle (750 milliliters) vodka
1. Slit: Use a small sharp knife to slit the vanilla beans lengthwise. Slip the beans into the bottle of vodka. Close and store in a cool dark cupboard. (Consider sliding the bottle back into its paper bag.)
2. Wait: Let rest 3 (or more) weeks. Shake a few times per week.
3. Strain: Set a sieve lined with cheesecloth over a quart-size measuring cup. Strain extract. Pour strained extract into small glass (preferably dark) bottles. If you like, add a length of vanilla bean to each small bottle. Leave as is, or get fancy with the labeling.
4. Repeat. You can continue to add vodka to your original bottle for a time; eventually the beans will have given their all.
* Grocery stores often sell vanilla beans in packages of 1 or 2. For bulk beans, try online. One good source is www.vanillaqueen.com.