Homestead Kitchen – Essence

So, just a quick blog from the Kitchen this week, scrawled on the bus (to be slammed into the computer later ~ like now) enroute to a relatively new, relative centred lunch date.  Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and that can only mean one thing: Ladies Luncification.  As Miss Mint and Farm Girl are closeted in their respective educational institutions, there will be only four of us ladies around the table of the swanky new cafe Ilex in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens today: Oma and Auntie Jinter, with The Goat Herd and Milk Maid representing the Homestead.


*Sigh*  It’s a hard knock life 🙂

Ladies Lunchification is a new invention, this being only our third outing, born from the desire to have regular contact with those special people in our life that day-to-day living can get in the way of us spending time with. When it was still a flicker of an idea, a manifesto of sorts was debated; the meeting time and regularity was set, the proposed “ladies only” idea soundly applauded, and the idea of rules mooted.  In the end, we came up with only one: lunch venues, chosen in turn, must be restricted to the central city or surrounding south eastern suburbs, you know, the ones hit hardest by the ‘quakes.

Looking towards Cathedral Square, once the heart of Christchurch
Looking towards Cathedral Square, once the heart of Christchurch

In essence, we’re doing our bit for the Canterbury Rebuild.  

The weird thing about experiencing something as life altering as an earthquake is it makes you stop for a while.  You stop, you breathe, you think, you gather what is important around you and, for us at least, you suddenly realise the important stuff isn’t actually stuff, it’s people.  The one essential thing for us to function as a group of people turned out not to be a flush toilet, running water, or a power source, but instead family, friends and community.

We're not the only ones to get it
We’re not the only ones to get it

Essence; the best of the best in a concentrated form.

Of course, central to spending time in fellowship with the aforementioned family, friends and community is what is still referred to in those quaint tea rooms dotted along the highways and byways as “refreshments”.  And where would a good refreshment break be without chocolate cake?  And what’s a chocolate cake without a splash of essence?  

We’re talking vanilla here…

see where we’re heading…

Conditioning is a powerful thing; we’re not pointing the finger, but somewhere along the line we have been conditioned to believe that there’s some stuff you just can’t make yourself.  It’s like some things are concocted or mined or grown in some remote place by an unfathomable process and don’t even consider you could cook it up.  For us, vanilla essence was one of those things.  It took us a while to even realise that there was a difference between “Vanilla Essence” and “Vanilla Extract”.  How dumb were we?!  Then along came the lovely Jamie Oliver,ramming vanilla pods (pods! Who knew vanilla grew on trees?!)  into pretty containers full of sugar and giving it away as presents.  It  started us pondering.

Then The Milk Maid went to a foraging workshop at the local Community Gardens and started looking at the plaintain sprouting in every Homestead nook and cranny.  The word “tinctures” (using alcohol to extract)  started being bandied about and before long our quarter bottle of trifle brandy had a couple of split, Tongan grown vanilla pods lurking in the bottom of it.   Sure, you can get all cheffy and scrape the insides of a couple of beans into one gorgeous custard or your homemade ice cream or you can be a tad more…we like to think of it as thrifty, and do as we do.  Only don’t use brandy; it just tastes too good to stop at adding a couple of drops to the lunchbox chocolate muffins and there is nothing dignified about being caught swigging from the vanilla essence bottle.  Enough said.

A recipe?  Some form of good alcohol (we use vodka) and a couple of vanilla pods or lemon peel minus even the hint of pith (it tastes bitter and yuk).  Introduce them to each other in a preferably tinted , clean bottle (we use old hip flasks).  Leave for a month or so.

Taa Dahhh!  Homemade vanilla or lemon essence.  


You really only need a couple of drops to make a difference to anything from cake icing to whipped cream to custard.  It’s cheap, it’s honest, you control what’s in in…and it’s sublime.

Try it!   Seriously, it’ll become one of your store cupboard ESSENCE-tials.

 2013-12-09 12.45.20






4 thoughts on “Homestead Kitchen – Essence

  1. I have been buying vanilla essence at the grocery store that is being made by some enterprising local small business – I had no idea it was as simple to make as you describe. Will definitely have to give this a try, though the local business mya lose me as a customer as a result.

    Christchurch Rebuild. Good on you. That picture of downtown Christchurch has more people and more cars parked than when we were there in March. We were with one of those swanky tours (mixed feelings about these tours, but that’s another topic), and we were told by the tour guide that tourists were finding Christchurch depressing to visit, but the company felt it was important to keep bringing them, to inject some cash into the downtown core to help the rebuild. We were booked at the Novotel (right next to the Cathedral, and as I’ve already mentioned, found the city core overwhelming in it’s desolation, though we realized a lot of what we were seeing was not earthquake damage so much as the results of all the demolition). It was eerie though to walk city streets that were so deserted, practically no traffic at all (in the evening). We had a lovely explore of the Botanic Gardens – there’s a lesson there somewhere about some of those ancient trees that withstood 2011 a block away from buildings that didn’t…and then we went looking for dinner. We had passed three cafes/bistros on our way to the gardens, one of which was so very geared for 20 somethings we chose not to go in, one which served mostly seafood, and was consequently through the roof for price, and the third which was possible. When we got back to it, it was packed out! Where had all those people come from? We hiked over a few blocks to the area where the containers are that have been turned into shops and found an upscale sort of place with lots of brick and wonderful pizza (Valentinos). It too was packed with people. It made me realize that just like at home, most of a city’s population don’t live in the downtown core, they live out somewhere, and come IN for entertainment and social gathering. Life was still going on outside the core, vibrant, busy, normal (ish). Like you, coming in from New Brighton for lunchification.

    • I’m glad you didn’t find it too depressing, and that you were able to revive your spirits at Valentinos; actually glad that you could find a table as, when we dropped in for a birthday treat back in September, it was full! Yay for reservations! Swanky tours…yep, guess they bring the dollars in – and lovely people like you. What a pity we weren’t connected then, feel we would have had a lot to talk about over a coffee or two 🙂

Thoughts? Comments? Advice? We'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s