I love a neighbor gift as much as the next person, but I’m always on the lookout for something that isn’t a plate of cookies, because by mid-December, the last thing I want is more sugar.
Or at least, the last thing I WANT to want is more sugar.
A couple of years ago, when we spent Christmas with my parents after returning form London, I went around with her to deliver Christmas gifts to a few friends in the neighborhood and she took cute bottles of Mrs. Meyer’s Cleaner with a big ribbon and sprig of holly on them. Every single person commented how grateful they were for a useful and non-sweet item.
Two years ago, I made these “Chili in a Jar” gifts, which were super popular because everyone appreciates some real food that takes five seconds to get in the crockpot during the insanity of the holidays.
Last year, I was on the hunt for another good option and settled on homemade vanilla extract.
I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for about four years, and I’ll never go back. It’s SO much cheaper than buying vanilla extract and it tastes a thousand times better than artificial vanilla.
And it makes a great gift because it’s not super expensive (even though the cost of vanilla beans keeps rising!), it has a personal touch, and they can use it whenever they want, instead of being forced to eat cookies RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
I order my vanilla beans on Amazon because it’s the cheapest I’ve found them.
Also, since it takes a while for it to turn into vanilla, now is a great time to make a big batch, put it away in your pantry or on a high shelf and then when mid-December rolls around, you’re ready to go.
I don’t have beautiful handwriting, but my friend Lisa from Handlettered Design does the most gorgeous hand lettering and she made these pretty printable gift tags to tie on the bottles – aren’t they gorgeous?
How to make homemade vanilla
- 1 bottle vodka don't worry about quality, just buy whatever is cheapest
- Vanilla Beans I buy mine from Amazon (most affordable - http://bit.ly/2z0qSJG)
- Glass bottles I like the ones from World Market (http://bit.ly/2fYwfjC)
- Printable Tags
For each bottle, you'll want about 3-6 vanilla beans (depending on how fast you want it to turn into vanilla extract and also how strong you want it to turn out).
With a sharp knife, split the bean in half (I cut mine so they are open but still connected like a hot dog bun) and put into the jar.
Fill with vodka, close the jar and shake gently.
Tie on a label and put them away, shaking them every couple of days or weeks, until you're ready to hand them out as gifts!
Some people strain their vanilla before they give it as gifts so it looks clearer, but I really like the little flecks of vanilla beans for additional flavor and because I like the look of it in baked goods.
Also, the longer it sits, the better it'll get. My current bottle is about a year old (I just stuck an entire package of 30 beans in the whole bottle of vodka and keep it in my pantry) and it's fantastic.
Once you are finished, tie on the free homemade gift tags and put them away, shaking them every couple of days or weeks, until you’re ready to hand them out as gifts!
And then pat yourself on the back for being ready for the holidays way ahead of time.
Samantha Seufert says
Wow I never knew it was so easy! If I make a batch now, will it be ready in time for Christmas gifts?
And silly question, but just double-checking: you leave the beans in the bottle when you give it away? I think it looks pretty.
Lastly – does it matter that the vanilla beans are different types?
I use mine within a month of making it, so you should be good by Christmas!
And yes, I leave the beans in (and I usually tell people to use them in a recipe if they want after the vanilla is gone).
I think it probably won't matter about the vanilla beans being different types, but I'd personally keep them separated and do all of one kind in each bottle.
Paige Flamm says
I never realized how easy it was to do this! Although Derek might be concerned when he comes home and sees a massive bottle of vodka haha.
I did this last year as "stocking stuffers" (that didn't actually go in stockings. So easy and useful!
Wow! Never thought about making Vanilla. Grear idea! This may be a silly question but I'm guessing we don't have to worry about the alcohol content? I mean it's not like we would be drinking it haha
JayLynn Stokes says
Where do you buy vodka for this? How large of a bottle? Any specific brand you use? Sorry for all the questions!!
In some states, you have to buy hard liquor at a dedicated liquor store (both Texas and North Carolina are like this), but in others, like Arizona, you can just pick it up in the liquor aisle of your grocery store.
My bottle is usually is a liter or half gallon and I just usually get one of the cheapest brands (I've done three different bottles over the last four years, and every bottle has been a different brand). Good luck!
Lindsay Sanchez says
I love this idea! I'm definitely doing this! Thank you for sharing! And yes those tags are amazing! <3
Hi Janssen. I purchased the set of vanilla beans you popted above. Would it be okay to stick all 30 in the same bottle of vodka or not because they are all slightly different? Thank you!
I think it'll be fine!
Why aren't we neighbors, again?
Celtic pride says
So I got me a big ole bottle of vodka and yes I live in Texas! Just got my beans today. Can't wait to get home and make my vanilla!
Science Teacher Mommy says
Are you mixing types of beans in the same bottle? Or making different varieties depending on the type of bean? We are looking at putting these together this week and looking at bean options, with Madagascar beans costing almost twice as much as, say, Tahitian. I'm wondering about the difference in flavor for the final.
I'd probably keep them separate just to be safe, but frankly I doubt it's going to matter that much!
Hey hey! This is what I’m doing for neighbor gifts this year! I made a big batch that’s been stewing since May. I like doing Christmas gifts way ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about it once the crazy hits. I might just use your tags too!
I keep wanting to make this, but I haven’t yet convinced myself to buy a huge bottle of vodka. ?
Karen Fairchild says
You rock! What a wonderful and EASY idea! I really think I can do this 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!!!
How large are the bottles your putting the beans and vodka into for gifts? Can’t wait to try this for a new neighbor moving in!
Janssen Bradshaw says
They are 8.5 ounces – these are the ones I use: https://bit.ly/3g6pTvD