A vanilla extract Mother jar is a large glass container with an airtight lid that holds fresh and spent beans that you are saving to use later. A Mother jar is a pot of pure gold in every baker and chef’s pantry, keeping their most precious culinary gems in safekeeping.
Whole vanilla beans are expensive and you want to squeeze every last ounce of value out of them. A Mother jar is the safest place to store your beans because the alcohol acts as a natural preservative. The last thing you want is precious pods going moldy sitting in a box in your pantry.
Making a Mother jar for homemade vanilla extract is super easy. Start with a large glass container because you need it to be big enough so you can keep adding beans for the next few years. There are home bakers and chefs that have a Mother jar that's over five years old. We recommend using a 2- or 5-litre glass container. It must have a click-top or screw-on lid so it’s airtight.
Place all the beans you have on hand in the jar and cover them with enough alcohol so they are completely submerged. You don’t need to fill the container to the top, just pour enough in to cover the first lot of beans you use. Top up with alcohol when you add more beans, always keeping them ‘underwater’.
You can use any type of spirits, and it doesn’t have to be a top-dollar brand. We recommend vodka because it has a neutral taste and almost no smell, and it doesn't dominate the natural vanilla flavour. You can create multiple Mother jars using any type of spirit. Use bourbon, white rum, brandy or cognac for something different. We don’t recommend mixing different spirits.
Now you have the perfect ‘storeroom’ for vanilla beans you buy and use over the years. Your Mother jar is different to the vanilla extract you make specifically for baking and cooking. It’ll have a unique flavour that can’t be replicated unless keep a note of what you put in it. No Mother jar extract tastes the same because people add different types of fresh beans, leftover extract and spent pods over the years.
Try to imagine a blend with Tahitian pods that give up an intense floral, stone fruit aroma with cherry chocolate, caramel and liquorice undertones, and Madagascar Bourbon pods that give up a deep, creamy flavour with woody, spicy-sweet undertones and hints of clove and nutmeg. It’s a fusion of flavour.
Whole beans soften in the liquid and produce delicious a delicious pulp that bakers call vanilla caviar. It’s the purest form of vanilla and gives up an intense flavour. Cut the top off a bean that's been soaking for a long time, and gently squeeze macerated seeds out. Add the caviar fresh and juicy to a recipe or dry it at a low heat, blitz into a powder, and use as vanilla dust or to flavour sugar.
Store your Mother jar in a dark, cool place like a pantry or kitchen cupboard. Please don't put it into the refrigerator because vanilla extract loses potency in cold temperatures. You can give it a shake every few weeks but otherwise leave it to age undisturbed. Once a year, pour the liquid into another container using a sieve and give your Mother jar a good clean to prevent impurities from building up and tainting the beans.