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Two vanilla gifts that get better with age:
Vanilla beans quickly infuse their delicious aromas into sugar. Just bury two vanilla pods in a jar with two cups of granulated sugar, cover and store at room temperature for at least two weeks. Use it as you would granulated sugar to enhance any dessert recipe. It’s also delicious in coffee. You can leave the beans in the jar and top it up with fresh sugar until the vanilla loses its aroma (about 6 to 1 8 months). And vanilla sugar is a great way to extract the remaining flavour from vanilla pods that you’ve used in cooking-just rinse and dry them first.
Since the quality of the extract will depend on the quality of the beans, use premium beans that are flexible not brittle, have a rich aroma and are oily to the touch. The best bourbon beans have a white “frost” of pure vanillin on the outside. (To distinguish the frost from mildew, look at the beans under bright light, preferably sunlight-mildew is dull and flat, while the crystalline vanillin will sparkle).
Split four to six beans in half lengthwise with a sharp knife and add to a half bottle (375 mL) of vodka or grain alcohol. Store at room temperature (never refrigerate vanilla) in a dark place, and wait-two months is a bare minimum, six months is better. Vanilla extract, like good wine, only improves with age. You can leave the beans in the bottle and top it up with fresh spirits as you use it.
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