A Plan Hatched in 1993 Comes to Fruition

Ever since I read More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin I have thought, “I should make yogurt.”
This is a book I purchased the day it arrived at the bookstore where I then worked. I was making $5 an hour, which is to say, bupkes, but I bought it in hardcover and brought it home hours after I’d freed it from the shipping box. I carried it home, made myself a meal of spaghetti with pesto sauce (in those days I bought pre-made pesto sauce), and sat down to eat. The very first thing I did was inadvertently fling a blob of pesto onto one of the pages of the book, staining it permanently. I think I cried, I was so angry at myself, but I quickly grasped that Colwin wouldn’t mind at all, so I blotted off as much oil as I could and then kept eating and reading.

In this volume, Colwin assures her readers that any damned moron can make yogurt. I was skeptical, but thought, “Maybe she’s right. She wouldn’t lie to me.” And so I got the idea in my head that someday I would make yogurt.

Every six months or so, ever since then, I have had the thought, “I should make yogurt. See how easy it really is.” But I never did it. Whenever  the thought crossed my mind, I would be lacking one of the essential ingredients — I didn’t have enough milk on hand, or I didn’t have good, plain yogurt. There were times when I would deliberately buy fancy milk or fancy yogurt, thinking, “I will use these to start my own yogurt,” but it never worked out. This went on for decades. It’s now 2016, after all.

But yesterday I was spending an afternoon at home. My daughter had, rather uncharacteristically, decided to take a nap. I was downstairs and awake, willing to do something in the kitchen, but not willing to make a lot of noise (so anything involving the stand mixer was out). I realized that I had on hand a nearly full carton of Preferred Milk (Farmer’s Cow whole milk) and about a third of a tub of very good yogurt from Arethusa Farm Dairy.

“Here we go!” I said. And so I pulled More Home Cooking from the shelf and got to work.

Colwin says that making yogurt is ridiculously easy and that you don’t need a thermometer to do it, to which my response is, “Maybe YOU don’t need a thermometer, but I’m glad I have one.” I did exactly as she said. I took 2 1/2 cups of milk and brought it to a boil in a pot. She doesn’t tell you to have the pot boil over and make a huge mess, but I achieved this effortlessly, as well. I then simmered the milk for two minutes and took it off the heat and let it cool down. It needs to come down to a temperature between 110°-115°, which takes longer than I would have guessed if I’d just been relying on my finger to test; I was glad to have the Thermapen to let me know what was what. (Colwin says, by the way, to bring it down to 110°, but when I looked in other cookbooks to see how their recipes compared, what I found was a range — between 110° and 115°. When mine was at 114°, I moved.)

When the milk is cool enough, you whisk in your yogurt starter. I used about 1/4 cup of the Arethusa yogurt. I then made a mess on the counter pouring all of the milk and yogurt into the glass Mason jar, but most of the stuff got into the jar. I closed the jar, wrapped a tea towel around it, and set it by the stove. You want to keep it warmish while it’s fermenting or doing whatever it’s doing. I then had a lovely time cleaning up the milk from the stovetop and the countertop.

After dinner last night, when I was cleaning up the kitchen, I noticed the jar sitting by the stove and wondered if it would remain warm enough. I had just scrubbed out the biggest Dutch oven we have and it was still warm from the hot water. I decided to put the jar into the Dutch oven and balance the lid on top. I figured the residual heat couldn’t hurt the yogurt and might help it along. A lot of yogurt recipes tell you to keep the jar by the pilot light of your oven to maintain temperature, and that’s great advice, but I don’t have a pilot light of which I am aware (though there must be one, since I have a gas stove). What’s more, if I put the jar into the oven and left it overnight, I would be all but guaranteed to forget about it, which I know would lead to total disaster. So the “jar-int0-warm-Dutch-oven” plan seemed like a good compromise. I balanced the pot lid on the top of the Mason jar and turned off the kitchen lights and went up to bed, thinking, “Well….. we’ll see what we’ve got in the morning.”

Everyone writes about how when they first start making yogurt the results are soupy. That’s the word everyone uses: soupy. So I didn’t have very high expectations for my first attempt; I figured that the worst-case scenario was that I’d make soupy yogurt and then spend some time draining it with cheesecloth or use it to make a yogurt cake. I wasn’t optimistic about the process but I was curious to see what would happen.

This morning when I went downstairs to get a cup of coffee, I noticed the pot on the stove and thought, “Come on, who left a pot on the stove last night?” and remembered that it was me. Then I remembered the whole yogurt thing. I took out the Mason jar and shook it a little: would the yogurt just splosh around in there?

To my astonishment it did not splosh at all. It was a solid mass with just a little bit of whey floating at the top. In other words, it looked exactly like real yogurt. I opened the jar and took a spoonful of it: it tasted just like real yogurt.

In other words: I had successfully made yogurt. And it really was easy.

So now I feel like a jackass for not having done it before.

On the bright side: I now get to spend time thinking about how to make it even better. Must remember to add Farmer’s Cow Half-and-Half to the shopping list.

Postscript: I fully expected my husband and child to be excited about the yogurt this morning, and to want some with breakfast. My husband is in the habit of eating yogurt in the mornings, so I was particularly confident that he would want some. Instead, he complained, “What happened to my Arethusa yogurt? There’s hardly any left in the tub.” I said, astonished, “I used a quarter cup of it as a starter for the yogurt I made yesterday.” He said, “So you didn’t really make yogurt. You just took someone else’s yogurt, and added milk to it, and now you’re calling it yogurt.” “You wanna try some?” I countered. “No,” he said.
It then dawned on me that he didn’t trust the yogurt I’d made. “It’s good!” I insisted. I got the jar from the fridge. “Look! It looks just like yogurt! From the store! Except it’s homemade!” He glanced at it dismissively. I put the jar back in the fridge, saying, “I can’t believe you ingrates. I make yogurt and none of you will eat it.”
“Have you eaten any of it?” my husband asked.

“Yes!” I said. “I had a spoonful of it.”

“Well, let’s wait and see what happens,” he said.

Basically, he’s positive that I’m going to give everyone food poisoning with the yogurt. So my yogurt victory may be a total loss on the domestic front. I had not planned to put this post into the Museum of Tsuris, but after this update, I feel I have no choice. It’s not that the yogurt has given me any tsuris, mind you, but my husband sure has. Ingrate.

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