Needing a break from the ups and downs of doing Transition, I decided to take a page out of Rob Hopkins’ book, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, and make yogurt this weekend. Both are about changing the culture, after all.
I wanted to bring the principles of meditation practice into the process and be more mindful, so I was aware that my automatic choice was to consult the Internet rather than a cookbook of which I have many. Results: three pages, 10 links/recipes on each, before my search ran aground. Most of the recipes seemed unnecessarily complicated, so I went with the simplest one from @thekitchnn — the language was kind and supportive, too. I like that.
Yogurt has been eaten by itself or as an essential ingredient in many world cuisines for centuries, and today it is enjoying perhaps the greatest popularity since Dannon first began diversifying its product, with such innovations as fruit in 8 oz. servings, “stir-from-the-bottom.” In fact, yogurt was declared the official snack of the State of New York in May this year, the successful conclusion of a campaign begun by 4th graders. The latest craze, so-called Greek Yogurt, was also a featured story in The New Yorker (October 30) that describes how Turkish entrepreneur, Hamdi Ukylaya, built his company from 0 to $1 billion in five years.
I’m a sucker for rags-to-riches stories, but I’m in this for the probiotics, the practice, and what it will teach me about patience (a lot). Homemade yogurt is like many fermented foods: it takes simple ingredients – in my case, a half-gallon of organic 2% milk, ½ cup of plain Dannon yogurt – and transforms them into something exceptionally nutritious and tasty. I had the requisite stainless steel pots and bowls, a thermometer to keep an eye on optimum temperatures, and plenty of time (4-5 hours total).
Making yogurt isn’t especially labor intensive, but you do have to be mindful of things like the temperature of the milk at different phases. It is a good reminder that yogurt is derived from a living culture and it will only thrive under the right conditions. The same could be said about any one of the many grassroots alternatives to the status quo among which Transition, Voluntary Simplicity and co-housing are the most promising.
Johnny Cash was singing from Folsom Prison while I stirred the milk over a medium-high burner (to keep from sticking) until the thermometer read about 185°F. Mine clips to the side of the pan. Some little bubbles had begun to form around the edge at this point. Cooling the milk to about 112°F – the wrist test familiar to mothers – can be speeded up by plunging the pot and contents into a bath of iced and water. Or you can just wait.
It’s important to use a good quality, additive-free, plain yogurt (or you can use a starter). Whisk in half a cup into a cup of the warm milk, then add it all back into the main pot, whisking until it is all blended in. At this point, I had to deviate from the recipe because my electric oven doesn’t have a pilot light, perfect for holding the temperature steady. A slow cooker might come in handy for this step. I heated a larger pan of water, about 2-3 inches of it, to about 120°F, removed it from the burner, and put the stainless bowl with the yogurt-milk mixture into the pan. Covered it with the lid – you can also swaddle the pot in towels for warmth — and forced myself to walk away. Well, I did sneak a few peeks, like the mother of a sleeping newborn. But the yogurt culture isn’t asleep although nothing much seems to be happening. It is quietly doing its astonishing thing. The longer it sits undisturbed, the more tart it becomes.
I went off to watch 60 Minutes, riveted by the Malcolm Gladwell profile (promoting his new book about underdogs, David and Goliath) and a terrifying story about live volcanoes. Back in the kitchen, about 10 pm, I lifted the lid. The yogurt was a firm, creamy mass ready to be transferred for final cooling to the refrigerator. It can be packed into sterilized glass containers now or later. It will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator… I doubt it will last that long in my house.
This morning, with sliced mangoes and granola – simply heaven!