Saturday, June 9, 2007

How to Make Yogurt

In honor of my grandmother, I thought I'd post this column I wrote a year or two ago for the Saipan Tribune. I checked on flights, but part of the reality of living on an island is that you can't always get where you need to be when you need to be there. Nothing could get me to Edmonton until after the funeral.


Having spent the first few years of my life in the desert of the Middle East, I was two years old when I first saw snow. I woke early one morning and looked out of my grandmother’s house to see the land covered with something white. Having never even heard of snow, I excitedly ran through the house awakening my aunts and uncles, shouting “Come everyone, get your spoons! There’s yogurt everywhere!”

I grew up with yogurt, though in Middle East it’s eaten differently than in the West. Instead of mixing it with fruit or honey or vanilla, it is mixed with shredded cucumbers or garlic or salt and pepper.

With the price of yogurt on the island now topping seven dollars for a quart, I’ve heard people talking of buying yogurt-makers. My grandmother had a yogurt maker. It was called a pot. And all my life I’ve made yogurt with a simple pot and a spoon. So, if you want make yogurt, here is how it’s done.

It’s all based on the principle that yogurt is a live food. It consists of a certain type of bacteria that turns the milk to yogurt. (If that scares you, don’t think about it.) My grandmother’s way of making yogurt was to pour milk into a pot, boil it to kill everything in it, let it cool down to a lukewarm temperature, put in a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt (the live stuff that will start changing the milk into yogurt) and then let it sit covered in a warm place for about eight hours. Open the pot, and you’ve got yogurt. It really is that simple. No need for fancy machines and powdered yogurt mixes and all the rest.

You can make as much yogurt as your pot can hold starting with just a spoonful of live yogurt. In fact, typically we would save a spoonful from the last batch of yogurt to start the next one, and in many families, the successive “generations” of yogurt would carry down through the families from year to year and decade to decade. Generations were connected through their yogurt.

Now, if you don’t trust grandma’s way (or if you just don’t want to take any chances) here is the “scientific” way of doing it. You’ll need a candy thermometer, an oven thermometer, milk, and one of those small 79 cent containers of plain yogurt. This starter yogurt has to be plain, not flavored. Pour the milk into a pot, and heat it to 180 F. Then let it cool down to 110 F. This may take a long time, so a quick way of cooling it down is to put the pot into a cool water bath (but make sure you don’t get any water into it). Once it’s cooled down to 110 F, put in 2-3 tablespoons of the starter yogurt. Now cover the pot and put it in a place that’s about 110 F, and that will stay at that temperature for the next eight hours. This is the prime temperature for the yogurt to grow. In my house, if I just click the oven to “on”, it gets to about 110F. Another common trick is to just turn on the light in the oven and put the pot in the oven, leaving the light on for the next eight hours. Most oven lights generate enough heat to keep the oven at 110 F. I’ve also made yogurt by balancing the pot on top of my computer monitor, a nice warm place.

If you want to make the yogurt a bit thicker, while the milk is heating up, stir in about 1/3 cup of powdered mild per quart of milk. More will make it even thicker and creamier.

After eight hours, take a look and you’ll see that the milk has been transformed to yogurt. It will be warm, so place it in the refrigerator for a few hours. Many people like to start the yogurt in the morning, put it in the refrigerator in the evening, and then the next morning it’s cool and ready to eat. At this point, you can add whatever you want to it – fruit, cucumbers, jam, flavorings.

You can make a quart of yogurt this way for the cost of the milk and the cost of a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt. The small cup of yogurt that you bought as the “starter” will last through quite a few batches of yogurt. Or you can save a spoonful from one batch for the next, but despite the stories of generations connected through their yogurt, sometimes the batch loses its potency with time. All in all, it comes out to about $1.50 per quart.

Enjoy! But don’t try to ski on it.

1 comment:

BoReGo said...

I am going to try this. Thanks for the recipe.