I am starting to realize that many of my food ideas come from my parents. The more that I get into this cooking thing, the more memories I am having about the food that I ate growing up. Obviously there are big meal occasions that I remember, but more often than not, the things that I remember the most are the little things, the small dishes mom made for lunch, or the snacks that we had. One of these breakfast/lunch/snack dishes that I remember vividly is home made yogurt.
When I was a kid, we didn’t buy individual-sized containers of pre-sweetened yogurt, and only rarely did we buy the larger tubs of plain yogurt. Mom used to make virtually all of our yogurt. I was actually surprised to learn that not everyone did this when I took home-made yogurt to school and got laughed at. Don’t worry, young Jonathan was used to being mocked at school (geniuses and artists) are never understood in the third grade and he came through the grade school experience none the worse for wear.
We would sweeten our home-made yogurt with home-made strawberry jam which my dad would cook in large quantities using strawberries from the patch on the edge of our garden. We would also drizzle a little honey or maple syrup over a bowl with some nuts. Mom would eat it with some fresh chives snipped on top with a pair of scissors (picked fresh from the herb garden at the side of the house) along with a few walnuts. It is amazing how much you take for granted as a kid – fresh berries in the garden, fresh herbs at the side of the house, sweet, tangy home-made yogurt whenever you wanted it …
Springing forward from idyllic-local-foods-childhood to adulthood in New York: The year I met Dr. Fiance, I was sitting at my local bar in the East Village talking to the bartender (a friend of mine), and for some reason the subject of yogurt came up. I mentioned that I was pretty sure my mom still had a bunch of yogurt makers in the basement back home. He asked if I could bring him one. On my next trip back to PA, I asked my mom about it and she sent me to the basement to look. Low and behold I found not one but FIVE yogurt makers down there that she had acquired over the years. With her permission I snagged one for my bartender friend, and a second one for myself. These were yogurt makers that dated back to the 70s, mind you.
The one I brought for my friend earned me many a free drink at the bar. The one I kept for myself went into a cupboard and didn’t see the light of day for years. Then, the other night as I was brainstorming about foods that I could make at home, I remembered that against all odds the yogurt maker was still in my possession. Even better, I was pretty sure that our craptastic movers hadn’t broken it when we moved to St. Louis. Then, the next day I came across a post over at One Hot Stove about making yogurt at home. Fate! Time for me to step up and make yogurt!
Making yogurt is ridiculously easy but does take a little patience and vigilance. You heat up a quart of milk to approximately 180 degrees (using a thermometer or watching until it is just about to boil) then wait for it to cool down to 110 degrees or so (slightly warmer than lukewarm), then add in a couple tablespoons of active culture yogurt. The active culture in the yogurt will thrive and set up shop in your warm milk and after five or six hours the milk will set into soft and creamy yogurt. Allow yogurt to set either by letting it sit for several hours in a warm spot or using a fancy piece of technology like a 1970s yogurt maker. Once the yogurt has set, pop it in the fridge to chill for a few hours, then enjoy!
You can get a vintage yogurt maker online for about $15, or you can spend a few dollars more and get a new version,either with individual cups like mine has or a model that make large batches. I like the individual cups since they are more along the lines of a single serving, but your needs may vary. The thing to remember is that a yogurt maker clearly isn’t necessary, but it does take some of the guesswork out of the process. All the maker really does is to keep the yogurt at a nice, constant temperature while it is setting. This comes in handy in a large, open and drafty apartment like our loft.
For your active culture, I ended up using culture from a national brand of greek-style yogurt. This was mainly because I was able to buy a small, single serving cup of plain greek yogurt rather than big tub of plain regular yogurt. Reading around the interwebs says that you can use the flavored versions of regular yogurt as starter as well, but I wanted to stay pure. I’ll do some experimentation and see if there are any major taste differences. You can also purchase dry cultures in packets, similar to bread yeast. Since the active culture yogurt starter seems to have worked I haven’t given the dry culture a try yet. The big question is whether or not my home made yogurt culture will be strong enough for the next batch. I’ll keep you posted.
I made the yogurt yesterday morning. The only tough part was remembering to watch the temperature of the milk as it heated (so as not to boil over) and then remember to watch it as it cools down so that I could add the yogurt starter when it was cool enough not to die but warm enough to thrive. I portioned out the mixture into my five glass cups for the yogurt maker and then forgot about it for five hours or so. Once the yogurt set, I popped it in the fridge. This morning I ate the first container of yogurt topped with some granola and the cranberry syrup I made last month along with a cranberry corn muffin from yesterday. Add a cup of coffee and you have the breakfast of champions!