Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Prepper's Pantry: Extracts and Syrups and Reductions, oh my!

When it comes to food preservation, there are many methods. One trait that most of them have in common is using most (or all) of the fruit or vegetable being preserved. However, another option is the extraction of only the flavor, or essence, of the food for use as an ingredient in recipes. Almost any herbal or aromatic plant, most fruits, and many vegetables can be processed using these techniques. Most of these methods are fairly simple, and require few (if any) ingredients other than the flavoring in question. The most common extra ingredient for the extracts, as an example, is time.

Filtered and bottled extracts in the author's pantry
These are usually made by submerging a flavorful herb in alcohol for a variable amount of time. The resulting liquid, once strained, can be stored in a cool dark place almost indefinitely.

Every baker is familiar with the benefits of vanilla extract when making cookies or pastries.


  • 6 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup 80 proof (minimum) vodka (or bourbon, or brandy, or even rum)

  1. Slit the vanilla beans so the beans are exposed. If the length of the vanilla beans don’t fit in the bottle or jar, cut them into smaller pieces.
  2. Place beans into bottle or jar.
  3. Pour the spirit on top, using a funnel if needed. Ensure the beans are fully submerged. Shake a few times.
  4. Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight. Shake every week or two. 
  5. This can be ready to use in as little as 8 weeks, but 12+ months is better.

When I make vanilla extract, I use a quart canning jar and approximately 24 oz of vodka. When done, I break it up into smaller glass jars and put a few pieces of vanilla bean in each one. These make great gifts for fellow bakers.

Mint is an extremely versatile plant. It can also be a nuisance with its tendency to take over any area where it's planted.

Mint extract: the beginning


  • ½ cup mint leaves
  • 1 cup vodka

  1. Place the mint leaves in a clean mason jar.
  2. Using a muddler or a wooden spoon, crush them gently to release some of the oils.
  3. Pour the vodka over the leaves, then push them down to keep them submerged.
  4. Store in a cool dark place for 30 days, shaking occasionally.
  5. Strain and store in a lidded bottle in the pantry.
Mint extract: second straining

As with the vanilla extract, I use a larger quantity of both mint and vodka. When done I strain it twice, once to remove the leaves, then a second time through a coffee filter to remove any sediment.

Not only can mint extract be used in baking, but it's also a good insect repellent, and can help keep rodents out of cars. Just sprinkle a few drops on the cabin air filter and in the air vents every few months.

Mint extract: final product

Basic Simple Syrup
For those who enjoy cocktails, simple syrup is a fairly common ingredient. At its heart, it's a super saturated solution of sugar and water used to add sweetness to, or counter bitterness in, mixed drinks.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated or brown sugar

  1. Add water and sugar to a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
  3. Stir occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  4. Cool then store in an airtight container, in the fridge, up to four weeks.

Some simple syrup recipes advise reducing the volume by up to half during the simmering phase.

Ginger Simple Syrup
This can be used as is to calm an upset stomach, in baking, or mixed with seltzer for home-made ginger beer.

  • 1 lb peeled and cut ginger
  • 2 to 2 ½ cups of water
  • 1 cup of sugar

  1. Measure the depth with half the water added, then add the rest and cook the mixture down to approximately that level.
  2. Strain and bottle when done and it should last in the fridge for three months or so.

This is an even simpler version, as no cooking is required, only time.

Apple simple syrup mid-process


    • 1 apple, cored and sliced thin
    • Equal weight in sugar, plus some for topping

    1. Coat the apple slices in sugar and put them in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for 20-30 days. Make sure there is a layer of sugar on top.
    2. Shake every few days to break up the sugar that settles to the bottom.
    3. As with the ginger syrup, strain and bottle when done and it should last in the fridge for three months or so.

    When done, dehydrate the apple slices for a bonus tasty treat.

    A reduction is related to a simple syrup, but generally refers to savories that have been cooked down to thicken and concentrate the flavor. A similar concept is a glaze. The distinction between the two isn't a hard line, but glazes usually have a sweetener added.

    Beef or Pork Reduction

    A classic reduction is made from the juices left in the bottom of a roasting dish or pan after cooking a roast, generally beef or pork. Due to the variable nature of the main element, I'm going to list approximate ingredients and measurements the reader can adjust to taste.


    • Juices from cooking a roast
    • 1 tsp to 1 Tbs olive oil or bacon fat
    • 1 small to medium onion, diced
    • 1-2 cups red wine or red wine vinegar
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Garlic to taste, diced or crushed
    • 1 to 3 Tbs herbs appropriate to the type of meat
    • 1 Tbs butter (optional)

    1. Add the oil, onion, and wine/vinegar to the pan.
    2. Over medium heat, scrub the bottom of the pan to incorporate the browned bits.
    3. Cook until the onion is soft, and the liquid is reduced by approximately half.
    4. Taste the liquid and add salt and pepper to taste.
    5. Add the garlic, herbs, and (if desired) the butter.
    6. Cook until the butter is melted and fully incorporated, or the flavors are blended to taste.

    Some people like to add a cup of beef or pork stock before the salt and pepper and cook down by half again. For a smooth result, use a stick or stand blender, or a food processor, to liquefy any remaining solids before serving.

    • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
    • ½ cup brown sugar

    1. Mix in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved.
    2. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.
    3. Simmer until volume is reduced by half (about 20 minutes).
    4. Let cool, then pour into a lidded jar. Seal and store in the refrigerator.

    This will last indefinitely. I use it on pork and chicken, as well as drizzled over mozzarella and fresh bread.

    Note: when chilled it will thicken considerably, as in "a spoon will stand up in the jar" thick. Heat it in the microwave in 10 to 15 second intervals until the desired consistency is achieved. A hot water bath can also be used, but will take longer.

    I said the balsamic glaze was thick (or should I say "thiccc"?)

    There are many other flavorings that can be preserved through these methods. Bon app├ętit, and happy experimentation. 

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