Since I'm on my making gifts kick I figured I'd write about the other gift I'm going to make. Why am I placing emphasis on making food products? You have to eat and when TSHTF you have your choice: cooked wheat for breakfast or something delicious? Baked goods in the afternoon? Even Survivalblog got a clue and is including recipes and how to make certain foods. Now it's true that vanilla beans don't last forever (almost if you remove the air from the package and keep them in a dark, cool (not refrigerated) area), but put those beans into some cheap vodka and they will last almost forever!
I'll still be using the bottles I'm going to buy from the bottle company but instead of hot sauce I'll also make vanilla. I could just use bottles and canning jars from home but for gifts I'll use the new jars. It's less expensive to make your own vanilla than to buy it in a pint container from Costco. If you buy vanilla from the grocery store you will buy a little two ounce bottle for about 1/2 the price you can buy 16 ounces from Costco. But for about $40 you can make a gallon of vanilla, that's 8 pints! And it's something that you made, and easily too!
You do have to buy the beans and that's the expensive part. You can get them from a Mexican grocery store or eBay. Don't buy them at the regular grocery store...too expensive. EBay has some great prices on vanilla beans. There are many sites that explain the different grades and types of beans. From what they write, you don't have to buy the higher grade when making vanilla. Also, think about your beans by weight because different grades of beans will come in different lengths or weight. The vodka you buy should be cheap stuff. There's no reason at all to use expensive vodka. You don't have to worry about getting a hang over so use the cheap stuff.
I was reading the label from my Costco vanilla. It has water, alcohol (35%), sugar, and vanilla beans. Sugar or corn syrup is often added to help cut the alcohol smell. It is also cheaper than the alcohol and you can add up to 10% sugar water to your vanilla. If you have an alcohol that's 80 proof you can add water to it if the vanilla is stronger than what you are used to cooking with. Or you just add less in your recipe. If I'm giving it away I'll probably add some sugar water so whoever gets the vanilla will be able to use it without having to use a little less. Again, making it more like store bought is good when it's for most of my family members. Remember, these are people who think meat comes from the store on styrofoam trays. There's no correlation between animal and meat.
How do you make vanilla? It's really easy. Buy the beans. Use about 2 ounces of beans per pint of alcohol, or 1/4 pound of beans per quart, or 1 pound of beans per gallon. Vodka is the best alcohol to use because it doesn't have a flavor but you can use rum, gin, or whatever you like. Just remember that alcohol with flavor will make vanilla with flavor. Cut your beans into pieces about 1/2 inch long. You don't have to slice the beans in half except if you have nothing else to do that day, then by all means, slice the beans in half. Or, if you are going to keep some beans in the brew to look nice then slice them. Me, I'll strain the beans out using cheesecloth or a coffee filter in a funnel when I'm done.
Pour your vodka into a container (or empty out some of the vodka in your vodka bottle). Put the beans in. Or put the beans in then put in the vodka. Doesn't matter which order. Just make sure you use 2 ounces of beans per pint of alcohol. No reason to use more beans per pint. Put the lid on the container. Shake. Put it in a cabinet or somewhere that the sun isn't beating down on it. Shake it daily for a month or so. That's all there is to it. Then put it into your jars and tighten the lid. No reason to water bath. It will keep.