“Mommy, how do they make yogurt?”
Tap, tap, click. A speedy Google search reveals the miracle that heat, bacteria and time perform on milk. I find recipes where the milk is heated on the stove top and others where it goes in the oven… both such unfriendly tools for children. Mingus spies my hesitation and asks, “What about my cooker?”
“Oh, that’s a good idea. All we need is milk and a little yogurt. Do you want to make it…
I assist him into his beloved chef’s outfit. Right arm, left arm, button, button, done. Mingus fetches the milk and gets us started by opening the carton. There’s fumbling, and he mildly complains, “Why do they make it so hard to open?” Then, as the seal pops, he eyes it hungrily. ”May I drink some out of the bottle?” Keen for a response, he spots my grimace and adds, “I want to make sure it doesn’t have any bad bacteria.” He knows that a little show of science acumen might bend the rules. Still, I don’t want to risk the yogurt project, so I deliver him a glass.
Glug, slurp, lick. Child plus milk moustache. I would hardly know him without it. When he became sort-of-vegetarian two weeks ago, he calmed my concerns about protein consumption, ”I could have protein for breakfast… afternoon… dinner… goodnight. All day.”
“How is that?”
Oh, right. He loves the stuff.
Sated, Mingus turns his attention back to… yogurt. He stands on his desk, examines the slow cooker buttons and clicks “boil“. He doesn’t quite read yet, but memory serves him well. He pours the remaining milk inside the pot. Meanwhile, I tie our instant read thermometer to the slow cooker’s handle so we can keep tabs on the milk’s rising temperature. I’d rather the thermometer does not slip inside. With the heating milk in front of us, we take turns stirring and we chat.
“Mommy, why do the chefs wear hats?” I ponder an answer and explain something about cleanliness, Grade A sanitary conditions and the hair net alternative.
He inquires innocently, “So, the person’s hair actually falls into the net, and the net catches it?”
“Yes,” I say. Then appealing to the boy in him, I lean closer and perpetuate an urban myth (that I really think to be true): “A person loses about two hundred hairs a day,” and explain, ”No one wants to find those hairs in their food.”
Mingus’ look agrees.
When the thermometer reads 200 degrees – just shy of boiling – Mingus clicks off the slow cooker. The milk is transformed. I’ve read that milk proteins are altered at this temperature; the light foamy liquid in front of us confirms it. This heating process is entirely necessary for the yogurt to solidify, once cooled.
As we then wait for the milk to drop down to 112 degrees, Mingus takes a potty break. He comes back – no pants and with his boxers on backwards. This is not a 5-star kitchen. He’s scrubbed his hands, and that’s good enough in our house. He’s still 3, after all.
At 112 degrees – milk that is warm to the touch – he scoops a cup into a medium-sized bowl. Then, he adds half a cup of store-bought yogurt, remarking without prompt, “This is the good bacteria.” He muddles the warm milk and yogurt together.
Don’t let that placid face fool you. Mingus’ hands wiggle in excitement as his imagination conjures a happy shimmy, shimmy, shake of bacteria released from cold stasis. He pours the mixture back into the slow cooker and whisks again.
“Now, the bacteria need to replicate in there. We have to give them time.”
They can divide once every twenty minutes. It takes at least four hours for them to grow enough bacteria to turn the milk into yogurt.
“Shall we go get some blankets to keep the milk warm inside the slow cooker?”
After a pause, Mingus replies, “No, I think we should use towels. They’re washable.”
As the hours pass, Beluga wakes. I sneak a few peaks at the thermometer under all those towels and, even with the heat turned off, the readout still reports 112, 111, 110 degrees. Old technology is vastly under-rated.
As the boys hover eagerly in the kitchen, hunger arrives. And there is a waiting snack: summer strawberries.
The berry bowl is empty, and with his stomach temporarily full, his mind starts thinking of what to do with his pile of berries. I’m eyeing them jealously, but who appropriates food from their child?
“Mommy, do you want these?”
“I do!” And explain, “Let’s make a compote.”
We load the slices into a glass, sprinkle some sugar on top and microwave the concoction for a minute.
Beluga approves of the result, so much so that – spring forward two hours – he slinks away from his dinner on the pretense, “I need to pee!”, to gorge on warm strawberry yogurt yum yum.
By the time morning comes around, the yogurt is cold from a night in the fridge. Although it is familiar, this yogurt is not exactly like anything we have been able to buy at the store. It is sweet and elastic. We load cup-fulls with all the toppings of summer. And gorge again.
- ½ Gallon Whole Organic Milk
- ½ Cup Plain Yogurt
- A half gallon of milk goes into your slow cooker.
- Insert a cooking thermometer into the cooker and tie it up, so it doesn’t slip inside.
- Click “boil” on the slow cooker and stir the milk to prevent it from scalding as the liquid heats.
- Watch the temperature. When it reaches 200 degrees, turn the slow cooker off.
- Then scoop an unmeasured cup of the milk from the slow cooker and pour it into a medium sized mixing bowl. As a half cup of pre-made plain yogurt and stir the two together.
- Wait until the milk returns to 112 degrees. Then pour the milk/yogurt mixture back into the slow cooker and whisk it all until well combined.
- Cover the slow cooker, pile on some blankets and wait.
- Four hours later, your yogurt is ready to transfer to the refrigerator. You can pour it into a jar and place in the cold. As it chills, it will set.