We were totally nonplussed about it, mostly because I wasn't that great of a cook at that point. Move forward years later to now where I would rather be as natural and DIY as possible, and I now totally understand why they were hoarding great vanilla at amazing prices.
Enter pinterest, which has basically become my search engine. And wouldn't you know it, there were DIY vanilla extract recipes. They are all basically the same:
DIY Vanilla Extract
80 proof Vodka, 1 liter
Vanilla beans (6-7 per quart, so 14 for 1 liter of vodka)
Pour half of vodka into quart jar. Slice open beans, spread apart, cut in half. Drop into vodka. Shake. Shake daily for first week, a couple times a week for the next two or three, and then whenever you remember for the next 2-6 months.
Here they are sitting in my laundry room. A place I unfortunately am in every day so I remember to shake the bottles.
Two months is the minimum amount of time to let it sit before using it. You could keep the beans in there indefinitely if you wanted, but I will strain them out since I am giving them as Christmas presents. This extract will essentially keep forever since it's made with vodka.
Some people just put 14 beans into the giant container of vodka rather than splitting it up, and you can certainly do this, but I saw a few people who said due to the bigger volume, it had to sit longer to get the flavor finished. I suppose you could be extra-aggressive with your shaking to counteract that.
I buy my vanilla beans from Mountain Rose Herbs. Love that store. They have all sorts of herbs and good stuff. Check it out.
And if you are going to make these for Christmas presents, get cracking! Time is short and the water rises. (That's my dad's saying!)