to making stuff.

Old Fashioned Ways: Fermenting Food

I love yogurt. And chocolate. And pickles. I considered starting this piece with “I recently got into fermenting foods..” but if I had come across that sentence a few weeks back I probably would have glossed it over and moved on. I somehow decided the whole “fermenting” thing wasn’t for me whenever I encountered it. Not now. No thanks. Wait, did I mention chocolate? Why yes, just check it out at Wikipedia. These are just a few of the fermented foods I have been introduced to in these last weeks.

Then I came across a post online about making apple vinegar [A Sonoma Garden – How to Make apple vinegar]. I’m a big fan of the whole do-it-yourself thing. If I can make something that is typically bought in the store I get really excited. I like to make all kinds of things, and the fact that most of the products our culture uses these days are typically store bought gets me all kinds of passionate when I find ways to do it on my own. It’s magical. When you tell me I can do it with just the stuff in my kitchen, and not a lot of special equipment…you get a minor obsession.

One thing led to another, and I bought Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz [Kindle version – affiliate link], which is all about using the microorganisms in the world around you to make yummy foods. Here’s when it starts to sound scary. Don’t go! No really, it doesn’t have to be crazy or wierd or complicated. Something as simple as soaking your beans before cooking is considered a wild fermentation. In fact proponents of fermented foods suggest all grains and beans should be soaked prior to eating, including oats. Ever heard of porridge? It’s mighty tasty, and made from soaking your oats prior to cooking.

I don’t claim to be an expert in this by any means, so I suggest you check out some other resources if you’re interested. You can purchase the same book I did and see for yourself, or you can find some good recipes at websites like

It turns out that I’ve been making my own fermented food all along and didn’t even know it! I was rejecting this whole group of foods based on a lack of knowledge. For a while now I’ve known that you can easily make your own yogurt. Lately I’ve been trying to convince everyone (including my husband’s co-workers) of how easy, and incredibly tasty it is. I even picked up a couple of new tricks after reading through the instructions in Wild Fermentation. I hope you’ll give it a try. The worst that happens is you get sour smelling milk, and you can call it a “science experiment” as you pour it down the drain. However, if you take a small risk and follow some simple instructions you can end up with tasty creamy home-made yogurt that is likely much less expensive than store bought.


Homemade Yogurt in Jars

I like this method because there’s no pouring or scooping out of yogurt when it’s done. Just check the jar when it’s done to be sure it set, and stick it in the fridge. I usually let mine culture overnight, so the less work I have to do in the morning the better.

You’ll need..

  • 1 Quart sized jar and lid (pre-warm the jar with hot water)
  • 1 Quart Milk
  • 1 Tbsp store-bought yogurt (must say with “live active cultures” on the ingredients list)
  1. Heat the milk on the stove stirring regularly. If you have a thermometer bring it up to 180F (82C). If you don’t have a thermometer this is just until it starts to get bubbly, but don’t let it simmer. This is supposed to help with the thickening.
  2. Let milk cool down to 110F (43C). This should be cool enough that you can touch without burning, but still warm. The bacteria in the yogurt like a warm environment, but won’t survive it too warm.
  3. Whisk or stir in your store-bought yogurt, and pour it all into your pre-warmed jar.
  4. Keep it some place warm for 8-10 hours. Overnight is the best time to do this! You can wrap the jar in a towel for insulation, and keep in a warm spot. Alternately, I used an insulated cooler (technically a baby bottle cooler) and it fit 2 Quart sized jars perfectly. If your oven stays warm with the pilot light on, then give that a try. You’re ideally looking for 90F (32C).
  5. Don’t touch it! Don’t stir it, and don’t check on it lest you let in some cooler air. This is why I suggest making it at night. I have to fight the urge to check on it.

Your finished yogurt will be unsweetened and unflavored. Add your flavoring once it has set up. A dash of vanilla and some honey or agave nectar makes a nice sweet yogurt. For a fruity flavor add a spoonful of jam or jelly to taste. Fresh fruit is even better. I prefer to flavor my yogurt when I serve it up, but you can mix a whole batch ready to go. I have been known to have my homemade yogurt without any sweetener at all, and mix in raisins and nuts.

Did you make it? Did it work? Isn’t it magical?

Written on August 21, 2013 by Kristin (Yankee Girl).

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