by Karen Talbot, Wild Gardener
When I was a young hippie mom in the early 1970’s, I looked for frugal ways to cut expenses and feed my family. Cooking from scratch, making clothes, baking bread, and growing vegetables are some examples. I wanted to learn to make your own yogurt, since my family liked it so much. It is a healthy fermented food that could even be strained to make a simple cheese. Everything I read at the time seemed to describe a finicky process and required a special thermometer to maintain the temperature. Product pages in the back of magazines advertised an electric yogurt machine with little plastic cups that did everything for you, but it was an expense I couldn’t afford. The good news is that making your own yogurt is a much more simple process than all that!
My recipe for yogurt in a cooler came from Mother Earth News, a magazine which has continued to be published—coincidentally—since 1970, and wishes to share with readers “…the wisdom of individual and family self-reliance and self-sufficiency.”
You need only three things to make any amount of yogurt: milk, glass jars, and an insulated cooler. Yes, the kind of cooler you fill with ice and drinks works just as well to keep heat in. You do need a small amount of quality (plain) yogurt from the grocery store (we like Stonyfield, but any good quality yogurt will do). This is your “starter” and it contains the cultures you need to make your own yogurt. After making your first batch, you won’t need the store-bought version anymore, just be sure to keep a bit of your last batch so you can make the next one.
The process is simple. I make two quarts of yogurt at a time. You can make much more depending on the size of your cooler, size of jars, and milk to fill them. I have a small Playmate cooler that’s about 35 years old and holds two quart size jars nicely. I save about four tablespoons of what I make as a starter for my next batch.
The process (make your own yogurt)
1. Measure a ½ gallon whole milk into two sterilized 1-quart jars. Make sure you leave enough room for two tablespoons of yogurt.
2. Pour the milk from the jars into a pan and heat on very low heat until hot and steaming, but not boiling. (This kills any lurking pathogens and ensures a proper temperature without curdling the milk)
3. Let cool until you can stick your clean finger comfortably into the warm milk. If you have a candy thermometer, you’re looking for it to be around 110 degrees fahrenheit.
4. Pour the warm milk back into jars and add about two tablespoons of purchased or reserved yogurt from a previous batch, into each jar. Stir gently to incorporate, and cover tightly with a lid.
5. Put the jars in the cooler and add hot tap water—as hot as you can get it—into the cooler up to the “hip” of the jars (where the glass curves). You may also set the jars on a heating mat, either in the cooler, or wrapped tightly in towels to avoid heat loss.
6. Close the cooler tightly and wait 8 – 12 hours.
7. Voila! Two quarts of beautiful yogurt.
The beauty of this process is that you don’t need to worry about special containers, electric contraptions, or even a thermometer. You heat the milk to kill any lingering pathogens, use your body (finger) to feel a comfortable warm temperature, add a bit of yogurt (purchased or saved from a previous batch), and let your cooler perform the miracle of turning milk into wi… I mean, yogurt!
What to do after you make your own yogurt
Don’t stop there. There are many great ways to use your yogurt. Substitute in muffins and quick breads to create a tender, moist crumb. You can add fruit like blueberries, strawberries, or other fruits for a healthier offering for kids than the mass-produced sugar-added products on the market. Take that fruit yogurt, stir in a bit of honey, and put them into molds to make eye appealing, scrumptious popsicle treats.
You can also create a thick Greek style yogurt by straining out some of the liquid (whey). Strain further to make a kind of cheese. Mash in a little salt with either sweet or savory ingredients, reform into a ball, and include on your charcuterie board with crackers or crusty bread.
Once you try this stressless, unfussy way to make yogurt, you may even throw away the electric plastic one you bought in the 70’s. If it’s still working, lol.
The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact your health practitioner to discuss your own health needs.