You can make many of your own extracts, flavored sugars, and fruit cordials or liqueurs at home without too much effort by infusing fruit peels and spices in vodka, rum, or other liquors.
It’s a fun and easy project during the Winter months. When decanted in fancy bottles and bedecked with colorful ribbons, raffia-tied spices, cinnamon sticks and pine cones, the bottled infusions make cheerful and welcomed Holiday gifts.
Add 3-4 vanilla beans to a 1/2 pint canning jar filled with 1/2 vodka and 1/2 Myer’s rum (or just plain vodka will do). There are also vanilla flavored vodkas on the market now, but that sort of defeats the purpose. In a few weeks when the vodka has sufficiently infused, you can remove the vanilla beans and then store them in a jar filled with sugar for several months. The sugar will take on the vanilla flavor and you can use this sugar to make apple pie, cookies, sprinkle on desserts or in whipped cream, etc. Or else leave the beans in the vodka; they will eventually dissolve over time. Shake up the jar to disperse before using. Try infusing with vanilla beans; use this instead of vanilla extract when making biscotti or pound cake. Allow next holiday cakes to imbibe this instead of the traditional brandy soak.
To make mint extract, obtain a pound or so of fresh spearmint or peppermint leaves (harvest them at noon time on a sunny day), wash them well and crush/bruise the leaves. Add these to a quart sized canning jar of vodka and place in the sun. Using a piece of well-washed, new cheese cloth, strain (and discard) the leaves from the infusion after three to four weeks.
Citrus Extracts (Orange or Lemon):
Squeeze the fruit, removing the membranes and seeds; place peels and fruit pulp into a quart sized canning jar, filling 1/3 of the jar. Add vodka (there are citrus flavored vodkas that might be interesting, or else try limoncello!).
For anise extract, fill a 1/2 pint canning jar with whole star anise. Fill with vodka, leave indefinitely. Star anise also stores well in sugar to make anise flavored sugar. (An interesting side note: Star anise are the star shaped seed pods from the fruit of a Chinese evergreen tree which provides a key ingredient used in the production of Tamiflu, an antiviral agent purportedly effective in helping to fight H5N1 bird flu and other influenza).
Pomegranates make an interesting cordial and a great substitute for red food coloring as well. Just look at that color! No wonder pomegranates are loaded with anti-oxidants.
Remove the skin and membranes from 3-4 pomegranates and put the seeds, separated, in the bottom of a quart sized canning jar. Crush the seeds with the back of the spoon. Fill the rest of the jar with vodka. Let sit about a week. Store in a sealed decanter in a cool, dark, place.
In all infusions, check the progress of things from time to time (by tasting, of course!). If the infusion is lacking flavor, leave it to steep for a longer period or start again by straining the liquid and adding a new batch of the flavoring ingredient (to the same vodka that has been already infused).
In this way, you can also add multiple layers of flavor or create new combinations by using a second flavoring ingredient the next time around.