Life is hopping here. The gardens are exploding with greens and radishes and onions and the accompanying work that comes with such explosions. We’re slowly building the general infrastructure we need for our market gardens (irrigation, high tunnel, etc). We’ve been trying to organize and get everything in order for our organic certification inspection (finally happening tomorrow!). We’re getting all our ducks in a row for the hopefully-nearing first day at the farmers market. Oh, yeah, and we’re still building that barn of ours. Barn-related projects have firmly taken their place in the back seat, but we are hoping to paint at the end of this week: YAY!!!
With all the new beginnings and planning and transitions and building and what-have-you, it can be hard to establish any sort of a consistent rhythm. Tim and I like to talk through the upcoming week on Sunday evenings and sketch out a general plan for each day. Usually, that plan has completely changed by 10 a.m. on Monday morning.
Which means I’m usually feeling frustrated and just a tad overwhelmed by 10:01 on Monday morning. Most weeks, thankfully, I manage to re-orient to the new tasks that have taken priority and (mostly) let go of my plan for the week.
In the midst of the whirlwind of work and newness, I relish the consistent tasks that insert their own small rhythms into my life. Many of these happen in the kitchen. Dinner prep. Kombucha brewing. Bread-baking (though my mother-in-law is a bread-baking master, and I’ve mostly been enjoying eating hers:). And an increasingly important one since we’ve had Anabel: yogurt making.
I learned to make yogurt on the farm in Kentucky where Tim and I worked after graduating from college. There were goats on this farm, with lots of milk to go along with them. We learned just a bit from the farmers there about making goat cheese and yogurt, and even after I left those goats behind I continued with semi-regular yogurt making.
Right after Anabel was born, I gave up yogurt making for a while and just bought it from the store. It seemed like the easiest thing to do. But then the kid started eating and discovered that, like her Papa, she has a deep affinity for plain yogurt. It has long been and continues to be one of her favorite snacks. She can easily eat a quart by herself before a week has gone by. At some point, I remembered that making yogurt really isn’t that hard, and is also quite cost effective, and I got back in my yogurt-making game.
I’ve used a number of methods to incubate yogurt throughout the years. At first, I placed the jars in a cooler with warm water. When I got tired of a musty-smelling cooler, I switched over to incubating in the crock pot. But after a few times of forgetting to turn the crock pot off and cooking my yogurt, I decided to try something new. The next method was the oven-light method, and that has been my go-to of late. But with an impending transition to a wood cookstove and accompanying outdoor wood-fired oven, my oven-light days are drawing to a close. So I decided perhaps I’d document the method while I can, and then give a yogurt making update once we take the plunge into non-electric, wood-fueled cooking.
If you’ve never made yogurt before, I’m guessing you’ll be surprised at how simple it is. You don’t need any fancy starters or kits to make a batch of yogurt. All you need is some milk, a little bit of plain yogurt, and some containers to incubate it in.
The general process of yogurt making is: heat milk up to kill anything that will compete with your yogurt cultures; cool the milk to a temperature that you will allow your yogurt starter to culture; add said starter and incubate to allow the culturing process to happen; end up with yogurt in your fridge!
Here’s my yogurt-making process in a bit more detail:
- Start with a half-gallon or gallon of whole milk (I’ve read some people say it doesn’t work as well with pasteurized milk…never found this to be the case, but raw milk sure does make yummy yogurt).
- For a half-gallon of milk, have 1/4 cup full fat plain yogurt on hand. For a full gallon, 1/2 cup.
- Heat your milk over medium-ish heat. You can do it at a higher (or lower temp), but if you do it higher, you’ll want to make sure to stir regularly to avoid burning.
- If you’re using a candy thermometer, you’re shooting for about 185 degrees. Our thermometer is either packed up in a box somewhere or broken, so I’ve taken to just doing this part by sight. You want to heat the milk until there are little bubbles all around the edges, lots of steam, and a little bit of the foaming that happens right before milk is about to boil.
- Pull the pot off the heat and allow the milk to cool. This can take a bit of time, so if I’m in a hurry I’ll put the pot in a sink full of cold water (just be careful not to over-cool.) You’re aiming for about 110 degrees. I know I’m about there when I can hold my pinky in the milk for 10 seconds without needing to pull it out.
- While the milk is cooling, turn on your oven to 170 and put your jars in the oven so they can heat up (I use mason jars).
- Once the milk is cooled, whisk in your yogurt starter, stirring vigorously to make sure it’s distributed evenly.
- Take your jars out of the oven and fill with the yogurt/milk mixture. Place lids on tightly and put jars back in the oven. Turn the oven OFF and the oven light ON. I usually put a note by the oven to let the rest of the house know that the oven light is supposed to be on.
- Let it incubate for 9-10 hours. Obviously, you won’t want to do this if you need to use the oven to make dinner, bake bread, make a birthday cake, etc. It’s an easy process, but a rather long one.
- After incubation, move your jars to the fridge for another 9-10 hours to continue to set up. I usually make my yogurt in the morning, and then refrigerate it overnight so it’s ready to eat the next morning.
- If you want a thicker, “Greek-style” yogurt, you can strain the finished product through cheesecloth. Let it sit in a strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on how thick you want it.
- Enjoy with some fresh or frozen fruit or, if you have to, honey or maple syrup. Oh, and make sure to have it on hand for that ravenous two-year old when she wakes up.