Cooking, Eat Good Food, Field Notes

Make Your Own Yogurt

Yogurt is downright magical. It’s packed with protein and with gut-friendly bacteria that aid in digestion. It goes from sweet to savory, from breakfast to dinner, like nobody’s business, and it stays fresh far longer than a carton of milk. Making your own batch of yogurt feels pretty magical too, and is simple to boot—all it takes is a quart of milk and a spoonful of yogurt.

Yes, you read that right—you need yogurt to make yogurt. Yogurt is the product of live bacterial cultures fermenting milk, and for your first batch you’ll need to borrow some of those cultures from a good storebought yogurt. Once you’ve had your first yogurt-making session you can save some of your homemade yogurt to inoculate the next batch, much like maintaining a sourdough starter or a kombucha mother.

Homemade yogurt without stabilizers or thickeners has a thinner texture than you might be used to—it will dribble, rather than dollop. If you prefer a thicker yogurt, strain your yogurt through a cheesecloth-lined colander for a few hours.

 

Ingredients

1/2 gallon fresh whole milk

1/4 cup plain, unsweetened full-fat yogurt with live active cultures

 

Instructions

Put milk in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Heat, stirring frequently until milk reaches a bare simmer. Milk should be between 180 and 200 degrees. Remove pot from heat and let cool to between 110 and 120 degrees.

Place yogurt in a small bowl and whisk in a bit of milk until smooth and liquidy. Stir the yogurt mixture into the pot of warm milk and cover with a lid. Wrap pot in a large towel and place in a warm place, such as in the oven with the light turned on or on top of the refrigerator. Let yogurt sit for 6-12 hours until thickened. The longer it sits, the tangier it will be.

At the end of fermentation, whisk the yogurt vigorously until smooth. Keep finished yogurt in the refrigerator, and be sure to save some for the next batch.

Preserve the Season

Fermented or Pickled?

preserved pickled fermentation

Fermented or pickled? Pickled but not fermented? The distinction between what’s pickled and what’s fermented can be confusing.

Broadly speaking, fermentation involves the transformation of microorganisms. More narrowly defined, it refers to anaerobic metabolism, or the production of energy without oxygen.

Fermentation helps preserve food by converting natural sugars into lactic acid bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms. These bacteria also have been shown to support digestive health, immune function, and general well being.

Pickling refers to the process of preserving foods in an acidic medium. Given this definition, fermentation can be considered a pickling method in which the acidic medium is created through lactic acid fermentation.

However, most contemporary pickles are not fermented, as they rely upon vinegar (a product of fermentation) and heat treatment to make them shelf stable.

Pickles produced in a vinegar brine can be ready to eat within an hour. These pickles do not contain live probiotics or enzymes.

On the other hand, salt-brined vegetables, such as cabbage in sauerkraut, are pickled by lactic acid bacteria. Get our recipe for simple sauerkraut.

So, just generally: If it’s been salted and left to make its own culture, it’s lacto-fermented. If it’s been brined in vinegar, it’s pickled.

In either event, it’s delicious!

Preserve the Season

Radish Kimchi Is a Twist on Tradition

Kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation — the process that also creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. Kimchi can be adapted many ways, with a variety of vegetables. Traditionally made with cabbage, cucumber, radish, green onion, garlic, and ginger, it can be sweet, spicy, garlic-y, salty, or any combination. Radish kimchi is a new take on the traditional Korean ferment. It makes a marvelous complement to many foods and is delicious eaten on its own.

Here’s an easy recipe for Radish Kimchi from Berkeley maker Sarah Kersten. Though any fermentation crock can be used to make kimchi, the measurements below are specifically tailored to Kersten’s small and large jars. Having stone weights available to press down the ingredients is very helpful.

Small Jar
3 cups daikon radish (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes)
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red onion
3 tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped ginger
2-3 tbsp Korean red pepper powder
2 inches kombu seaweed (tear into small squares, briefly soak in water)
Saltwater brine: 2 tbsp salt

Large Jar
9 cups daikon radish (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes)
6 cups chopped carrots
3 cups chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped garlic
3/4 cup chopped ginger
1/4-3/4 cup Korean red pepper powder
6 inches kombu seaweed (tear into small squares, briefly soak in water)
Saltwater brine: 5 tbsp salt

Combine all the ingredients (excluding the brine water) and transfer into the crock. If large cabbage leaves are available, it is helpful to layer them over the top of the fermenting vegetables.

Place stone weights over the vegetables. Add brine water, completely submerging the vegetables and weights.

Skim any floating vegetables off the brine surface. Seal the crock, and allow the vegetables to ferment for three to five weeks.

Preserve the Season

Favorite Fermentation Tools and Tips

Capturing foods in season and transforming them into something entirely different, shelf-stable, and nutritious is part of what we love about the fermentation process.

Fermentation is the microbial transformation of raw or cooked foods to a more preserved state that has a complex, unique flavor profile. These microbes, mostly bacteria and yeast, convert sugars into acids, gases, and sometimes alcohol. Microbes make up a diverse bacterial community and have an enormous impact on the flavors of the foods we eat.

Beneficial bacteria help to promote health in our own bodies and throughout our communities. A diet rich in fermented foods helps to regulate the immune system and metabolism as well as support mood and brain function. No wonder everyone is interested in fermentation.

Having the right fermentation tools makes this time-honored method of preserving vegetables easier and more fun for everyone. Here are some of our favorite fermentation tools and tips.

Books
To get started fermenting vegetables and making other cultured foods and beverages at home, check out Sandor Katz’s book The Art of Fermentation.

Bowls
Before transferring prepped vegetables into a fermentation vessel, it helps to have the larger surface area of a bowl to prepare the salt brine. Ceramic, glass, or metal bowls won’t absorb the brine and are easy to clean and maintain. Generally speaking, one tablespoon of salt will suit 2 to 3 pounds of vegetables, and the vegetables should be massaged for up to 3 minutes to fully incorporate the salt.

Cotton Towels
Cotton towels are a versatile way to cover ferments while keeping dust and bugs away. Make sure to secure with string or rubber band.

Fermentation Crocks
Fermentation crocks are perfect for making sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. The jars utilize a water seal to create an oxygen-free environment during fermentation. Any oxygen originally in the jar is displaced when carbon dioxide, naturally created during fermentation, bubbles through the water seal.

After preparing vegetables for fermentation, leave a few inches of space below the very top of the jar and use weights to make sure all ingredients are submerged in brine water. Fill the water seal rim ¾ full with water and continue to replenish during fermentation. Do not open jar until you think the ferment is ready — some people prefer quick ferments (5-10 days), while others prefer longer ferments (3+ weeks).

Glass Jar
Glass jars are helpful for beginners to be able to see the process and timing of fermentation. This will also allow you to make sure the vegetables stay fully submerged in brine to avoid mold growth.

Knife
A good knife is an essential tool in any kitchen. Keeping your knife sharp will help with chopping, dicing, and slicing your vegetables to be fermented.

Pickling Weights
Keeping vegetables under brine facilitates the anaerobic environment preferred by lactic acid bacteria. Smooth, non-porous rocks work as pickling weights — just make sure to scrub and boil them before each use.

Pickl-It
The Pickl-It is a versatile jar that includes an airlock filled with 1 ½ tbsp of water that helps to release excess carbon dioxide. Just add salt brine to sliced, whole, or shredded vegetables, top with the included weights, add water to the airlock, and wait desired amount of time.

Tongs
Tongs are the perfect serving utensil for large batches of fermented vegetables.

Foodshed

A Glass from the Past

Preserving plenty was never of greater importance than in the early years of agriculture. When times were lean, naturally, great pains were taken to ensure that nothing was wasted. This applied to wine that had turned to vinegar just as well as fruit that had turned too ripe to eat.

Thus the historic Shrub, or farmer’s lemonade, emerged in Colonial America as a way to save hard-grown produce and – in an age of questionably clean water – became a safe thirst-quenching beverage.

At SHED, Shrubs have always been part of our Fermentation Bar offerings. We like them for the charming way they straddle the line between soft drink and adult beverage, because they are an easy and fast way to preserve, and for the pleasing balance of flavor they achieve by marrying fruit and vegetables, herbs, and vinegars.

Gillian Helquist, SHED’s fermentation crafter, gets inspired to create the flavor combinations behind our seasonal list of Shrubs through a combination of historical reference, botanical relationships, and enduring flavor memories from her childhood. Her philosophy is to let the fruit shine through first and to capture the moment of peak ripeness when the fruit tastes like itself most. To do this, she considers the benefits and drawbacks of various vinegars, choosing ones that compliment but don’t overpower. Here are SHED’s current Shrubs and the inspiration behind them. Come taste for yourself at our Fermentation Bar.

Blueberry with Nutmeg and Red Wine Vinegar

“Blueberries have a tannic skin so I use the stronger red wine vinegar which pairs well with them, and also gives the fruit more body.”

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Strawberry with Tarragon and Champagne Vinegar

“What grows together goes together. Strawberries and tarragon show up at the same time in spring. They’re both soft, delicate flavors. And champagne vinegar is the softest vinegar, so it lets the strawberry flavor comes through.”

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Grapefruit with Juniper and White Wine Vinegar

“This in an homage to one of my favorite cocktails, the salty dog, which is gin or vodka with grapefruit juice. It goes great with the addition of Jardesca, too.”

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Satsuma Plum with Shiso and Rice Wine Vinegar

“Satsumas are a hybrid plum from Japan, so I chose shiso, which is an Asian mint, and rice wine vinegar to play across that.”

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Blackberry with Thyme and Apple Cider Vinegar

“This is a classic flavor combination because in a typical year, blackberries usually ripen right along with the first Gravenstein apples.”

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For more shrub stories, and to get a first-hand lesson from Gillian herself, join us for our workshop this Saturday.

Artisan Producers, Chefs, Modern Grange

Wrap Up: Fermentation Workshop + Dinner

Our fermentation chef/experts.

The art of fermentation evolved from the need to preserve food far beyond what was possible before the advent of refrigerators or ice boxes. Now that we have the luxuries of the kitchen fairly sorted out, we nonetheless continue to ferment and preserve. Why? Because it’s delicious, fascinating, and because our ability to understand the teeming world of tiny organisms that fix our food has never been more accessible. (more…)