Saturday, January 29, 2011

In Which I Get to the Vanilla Extract Eventually

Somewhere in my clouded memory banks, I recall tales of repressed fifties housewives, overwhelmed by expectations of perfection in all things, sneaking generous sips of vanilla extract, 35% alcohol by volume, to make their days bearable. While searching the internets for references to all things Mother’s-little-helper related, I came across this blog extolling “The Glorious 1950’s Housewife” and became so incensed that I almost forgot what I sat down to write about in the first place. This woman is deluded:

“These housewives would always wake up at least two hours before their husbands, so they could shower, do their hair, put on make up, and wear really nice dress and high heels.”

“A belief of always looking their best, when “he see’ s you first thing in the morning”, was of utmost importance.  They made it a point to never, ever have morning breath or look sleepy.”

(I won’t even get into her apostrophe catastrophes or other grammatical and spelling errors.)

Men made the money back then and it was important for their wives to create a haven of peace once their husbands got home. Strong daily efforts to make him comfortable were routine. Like having him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

“It was also important to make the evening his, while still incorporating your relationship and keeping a budding romance alive. Complaining or arguments were very scarce or kept to a minimum. The obvious goal was to try to make your home a place of peace and order, where your husband can relax and be happy.”

I believe these housewives were strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy.”

You’ve got to be kidding me. This woman belongs in Pleasantville, broadcast in black and white before Tobey McGuire came along and turned the more progressive populace into living color. Maybe she’ll romanticize the Antebellum South next, comment that the slaves enjoyed picking all that cotton in sweltering heat because the gracious white folks put roofs over their heads and fed them almost as well as they fed the livestock. How they didn’t deserve being more than 3/5 of a person, after all, and how they needed a good whippin’ from time to time to keep their baser urges in check. Oh, and they hated their families so it was a good thing the plantation owners were kind enough to take those burdenous chillens away from them.

But I digress, I came here to teach you people how to make vanilla extract at home, better tasting and less expensive vanilla extract. Now I’m afraid to do it without sounding like a fifties housewife, never mind the foolish woman who romanticizes her; but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Almost a year ago, while perusing the aisles of our local big box warehouse store (read Costco), Hubby and I discovered vanilla beans in test tubes. Because I am drawn by all things unique, I had to purchase said vanilla bean encasing test tubes or live the rest of my life in denied misery. Once home, they sat in the spice cabinet for nine months. If I was younger and had more energy and untied tubes, I could have conceived and birthed a baby in the time those beans were wasting away in their adorable glass tubes.

Then, one day, I ran out of vanilla. And remembered the tales of miserable vanilla-swigging fifties housewives. This memory was joined by a vague recollection of making one’s own vanilla at home and the knowledge that my liquor cabinet was well-stocked (because I mainly drink beer and wine) and my course was set.

I rattled through the Corner Cabinet of Rampant Disorganization and, just before Narnia, found an old maple syrup bottle to repurpose, dusted off the neglected test tubes, and pulled out the Absolut.

I suppose one could use inexpensive Vodka for this endeavor but, personally, I think life is too short to drink, or create vanilla from, cheap booze.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Split three vanilla beans lengthwise, leaving one end intact, put into a lidded glass jar or bottle, cover with vodka, and let sit for six weeks to two months, shaking two to three times a week.

Seriously, that’s all there is to it. Why are we all not making our own vanilla? Are we afraid that, if we do, the bottom is going to fall out of the extract market, causing the recession to dip again never to recover? Because this is beyond easy. The hardest thing was washing the inside of the old maple syrup bottle. AND, like sourdough bread starter or that horrid fruit fermentation that my mother kept for years in my youth, it never runs out! But instead of feeding it, you just give it a little more vodka when the level of extract drops. And who doesn’t need a little vodka now and then? It makes the world a better place and, unlike this poor soul here whose mother was probably one of those “strong, organized, respectable, and quite happy” fifties housewives, you still have enough vodka to pour yourself a drink instead of emptying the spice aisle and making a spectacle of yourself.

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