Friday 24 August 2012

The how and whys of making yogurt

I should be writing about crop rotation, so why I'm posting on making yogurt instead?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that growing your own affects the way you cook and eat. In my case, it has affected the way I think more broadly, for example about reuse and recycle.

On the plot I reuse a lot of punnets, bags and all sort of food packaging, including yogurt tubs, with which I make seedlings domes. I started using them because - mostly coming in plastic 5 - they were not recyclable in our council scheme, which does only 1 and 2 (plastic bottles, basically). When I reached capacity on the plot, I got very annoyed to have to throw them in the bin.

Then I found that Rachel's used recyclable pots. Then Rachel's stopped using recyclable pots, and in any case I was so disappointed they used starch in the flavoured yogurt. Then I found that Woodland's makes lovely sheep yogurt in recyclable pots. But what if they stopped? I have had enough of unreliable supply of my favourite products - it happens a lot here in the UK: as soon as I  find something I like, it disappears from the market.

I thought I would like to make my own, so I asked around and ever resourceful Carl said it would be easy peasy and shared his recipe, with which I had a few mixed results trials. Then I also had a chat with Sonia (another great source of food-related advice), and, in just over a month, I managed to come up with a recipe that worked for me, and I'm not going back to tubs!

Trial and error is necessary, because results depend on the milk and tools you use.

I use non-homogenised, organic milk. If you can find it locally, so much the better. If you can find it in a glass jar, possibly even better.

And I process it with the kit in the picture.

Besides, you need some yogurt as a starter (after the first time, you will reserve a few spoonfuls of the previous batch). I tried several and the one I liked most was Yeo Valley Greek Natural, because it does not contain any funny stuff ("No added ingredients. No added sugar.") and because it contains

  • Lactobacillus bulgaricus;
  • Steptococcus thermophilus (the two yogurt bacteria); and 
  • Bifidobacteria (probiotics)
So, pour your milk in a thick bottom pan, plunge a food thermometer in it and place on the simmer hob at lively temperature, until it reaches a temperature around 80C.

Stir frequently to prevent a film from forming on the surface of the milk. 

When it reaches temperature, if you have stirred enough, it will look slightly foamy as in the picture.

Turn the hob to the minimum and keep the temperature around 80C (give or take 2) for 8 minutes. I guess this step serves to evaporate a little bit of the water in the milk, so it gets thicker.
It is likely in the past taking the milk to boiling temperature was necessary to kill all nasties, but now it's pasteurised already.

After the 8 minutes, take off the hob and leave it alone to cool down. 

The nice bacteria listed above eat and reproduce more happily in warm temperature, let's say roughly body temperature, so you need to have the milk around 40C for as long as possible.

Adding the starter, which is cold  and pouring the milk in your final vessel will cool it down. So, to allow for that, the milk is ready to take out of the pan when around 55-60C.

For 1.5 l milk I use 3-4 tbsp yogurt starter, which I place in the bottom of the jar. I usually take the starter out of the fridge before starting the whole procedure and keep a room temperature for a while just to avoid temperature shocks to the bacteria.

Then I pour my warm milk over it and stir well before closing the jar.

Finally,  I get out the very secret tool to perfect the recipe: an old woollen jumper.
I wrap my jar in the jumper, place it in a drought-free place in my sitting room and wait for a few hours. 
If you make it in the morning, it should be thick by evening and if you make it in the evening it should be thick by morning (but I have read 3 hours might even be enough).

Place in the fridge for a few hours to cool down and settle  before eating.
It will keep for a week (if you do not eat it before!), getting sourer with time. 

Oh by the way, if it does not work and you do not find it thick,the cause was the temperature not being warm enough for enough time. You can heat it up in the jar to around 50C by placing in the oven (mind any plastic that might melt), and let it cool down inside.

Sometimes it comes out of the jumper with yellow residue water on top, I am not sure why, but it does not affect quality that I can tell. I had experiments in which the whole thing was watery, like diluted curdled cheese, and I strained and ate it with great pleasure....

Besides doing you good eaten as is or with cereals, it is delicious to cook curry with: tried and tested!

Are you going to have a go? Or you are an expert and have any tips? Would love to share.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Seedy penpals

I must have written before that I have a collector streak in me, and it comes out with seeds.

Every winter I get all the packets out from the recesses of my shed and take stock: I usually end up with some 150-300 species on my database (they have grown over the years both with perennials - which I also catalouge - and new seeds). Then I sort them by month of sowing, put them in coffee tins and padded envelopes with some silica gel to keep them dry, and they go back to the shed, to be picked out at the right month...

 ... which sounds quite orderly, but it isn't really, as I tend to run late after April every year (for some curious reason) so previous months' tins lie about for a while, and then of course seeds can be sown over a range of months and I buy new ones on top (as I need them or it catches my fancy)... basically, by this time of the year I have lost track of what I have used and what I still have! That is why the winter stock taking is so necessary for me.

As my garden and allotments are getting to capacity, after four and five years of working on them respectively, last winter for the first time I realised I had simply too many seeds to use, so I started looking for someone interested to share, and I found it surprisingly difficult! It was only in spring that someone showed interest. I then mailed my seeds, which they might or might not have received. Never heard from them again. That I found sad, as I care for my seeds.

Then Carl came up with the idea of "seedy penpals", like the penpals of yore, sending letters to each other, swapping surplus seeds, and keeping in touch on gardening progress. It is a great idea as you get to try new seeds, share your surplus and know what happens to it, and get to know someone at the same time: I enrolled straight away.

Seedy Penpals Big Badge
The first seeds swap ever under the scheme was scheduled for early August, and it has now gone through, so I have now virtually met Rebecca and Lucy, and we swapped seeds.

Rebecca is my receiver pal. We had a lovely exchange of emails and, based on her preferences, I selected some seeds to send her. Always a difficult task for a seed hoarder like me :D , but I enjoyed trying to match species to Rebecca's asks and writing to her about them. I thought some seedlings would also fill up for the fact that we are at the end of the season and you cannot sow so many things now as you would in spring. I hope she enjoys my little parcel.

Today I also received my own parcel from Lucy. Collector's paradise here, it will increase my collection rather than keep it in check! Lucy warned me she was quite busy at the moment, but despite that she managed to send me a rather wonderful parcel with a selection of flowers (for my new wildflower/cottage front garden, which I told her about) and veggies. The most interesting thing for me is she seems to have collected some of the seeds either from her own garden or other places, which I admire: I do not trust myself at saving seeds and have only occasionally attempted it- it's something I've always wanted to take up, though, so here's someone that I can learn from!

I'd better stop sitting in front of this screen, writing, and get going: a lot of sowing to be done!

Then, this winter, when I take stock of seeds again, I will have my seedy penpals in mind and the next swap in March to look forward too. :D