Sowing Seeds

I am not a farmer.

Well, duh.

I wish I were; all of the things I wish for myself–discipline, consistency, faith, foresight, intuition, production, connection to land and season and creature– are contained within the farm. I know some incredible farmers.  I have visited some incredible farms. I’ve put in a couple of hours of work here and there on a handful of farms. Oh, boy, do I long in my gut to be a farmer. But I am not a farmer.

 

I am just barely a gardener. I have read a lot of books about gardening. I have thought lots and lots about gardening. I have visited many gardens, made lots of spreadsheets and plans, talked to gardeners and urban gardeners and master gardeners. I’ve grown some things, even eaten some things I’ve grown. But gardener is not exactly a word I would use to describe myself.

One day, just before I found out I was pregnant with Winnie, I decided Mike and I needed a break from the city. We needed to touch some land, say hello to some livestock, and the like. I bought tickets to a tomato seed saving workshop upstate, and we decided to stop off at a Rockefeller manse turned agricultural center on the way. We ate heirloom tomatoes on thick toast, bought a couple of sweet little jars, and set off for the workshop at yet another Hudson Valley agricultural center.

The workshop was taught by someone I knew distantly from my hometown, and included a tour of the farm garden. She and her husband were looking for land to start a farm, and she worked for an incredible seed company, the Hudson Valley Seed Library. I learned about tomatoes named for Russian astronauts, and how to hand pollinate squash. In a funny turn, years later I would book a job with the same agricultural foundation where we stood to help spread the word on the importance of orchards and farm-based cider. But I still didn’t have a garden.

I collected some seeds here and there. We didn’t have a lot of direct sunlight in our apartment, so I couldn’t figure out how to make containers work besides growing some leggy lettuce and killing a number of well-intentioned herbs. I found birthing babies and subsequent parenting to be far easier than keeping a plant alive.

We tried to get a spot in the community garden a block over, but our timing was always off.  We joined the neighborhood CSA and made friends with our farmers’ market farmers (our oyster gentleman could remember Winnie and her size from season to season, and the fruit farmers did make fun of our kale habit, but marveled at the volume of peaches and eggplant we could plow through in a week). A youth market would pop up outside of the library in the heat of the summer, with local grains and honey and eggs, and it felt like our little concrete neighborhood exploded with life.

Despite our lack of growing, things still grew. We learned how to forage, and found dandelion roots and greens, persimmons, ginko nuts, lambs quarters, purslane, sumac, wild black cherries, sarsaparilla, and so much more in the park near our house.

 

In my third trimester, while perusing the library storytime calendar, I saw a notice for a meeting about the gardening group at the library. Why not? I thought.  There were some decorative beds surrounding the library, one with explosive roses bound with a vigorous clematis that had been present during my last few weeks with Winnie, and which was now beginning its bloom just as I entered my last weeks with Georgie.

So I bounced over to the library common room on a Saturday morning, where grow lights were fostering seedlings, and a handful of neighbors made a plan to grow.  Little did I know, half of the parking lot behind the library had been transformed to raised beds, which we weeded and composted and conditioned.  I dug out the seed packets I’d collected over the years, and shared them with my fellow gardeners. We had incredible luck with dill and collards, plus a middling bok choi, radish and carrot crop. Sage was taking off when we left the city, and I didn’t have the heart to destroy the tomato volunteers from the last year, so they taught me an excellent lesson about hybrids (it might look like a sungold, but it ain’t gonna taste like a sungold).

Winnie and I watered on Tuesdays throughout late spring, and as my belly grew, so did the eyes of my fellow gardeners when they saw us out back, hauling water around to the beds. It was fabulous– I felt strong, I felt productive, I felt useful. And so did Winnie.

 

I went into labor with Georgie on a Saturday. While in active labor, I walked past our little garden, past the youth market, past the CSA pickups and the folks headed to their community garden workshifts. I had a baby. She’s a delight. My mom came into town, and so did Mike’s sister. I went home from the hospital on Monday, Winnie’s birthday, and a strawberry-rhubarb spooncake was in order. Tuesday was our watering day. We had four adults, a child, and a baby.  I insisted.

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So that’s me, three days postpartum, wrangling a bunch of folks to water a garden, filling watering cans and explaining earthboxes, and why raised beds helped circumvent the heavy metal content of the soil.  Check out that postpartum belly, y’all! They all thought I was crazy, but they didn’t dare say anything.

Winnie loved sharing her garden with her friends after storytime, showing them the swallowtail caterpillars that had taken up residence on the dill. Soon the dill began to flower (delicious) and eventually those flowers turned into the most prolific and incredible seed heads.

 

Do you see those seeds on the right?  I planted maybe a dozen seeds.  I thinned the seedlings.  We watered on Tuesday, clipped dill when we needed it, and LOOK!  Look how we were rewarded!  Seeds for us, our neighbors, our friends, our fellow gardeners.  Seeds for the wind, seeds for the tiny creatures looking to munch. Seeds for days and weeks and years.  Seeds in the same sweet little jars we had bought on our first seed saving adventure years before.

We moved across the country, and whatever I had learned in my one community garden season in New York was out the window. Alkaline soil? Drought? Last frost day in May? But things grow, as evidenced by one of the best farmers’ markets in the country.

 

I’ve signed the paperwork for our next community garden plot. We worked as a family, alongside other families, to prepare the massive garden at Winnie’s school for planting. We attended a community seed exchange, and were lucky enough to happen upon the Seed Broadcast truck, a truck that serves to record and broadcast the stories of seeds, and to share those seeds with others. And a few days ago, Ken Greene, the founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library mentioned above, just came to speak at  our farmers’ market.

He spoke of his transition through seeds, spurred by a career in education and a passion for libraries (and a little bit of e-bay thrown in for good measure). He talked of GMOs and biotech companies, not in the OH NOES FRANKENFOOD WILL CERTAINLY KILL US ALL way, but of the very grounded reality that foods that are not open pollinated belong to someone, not everyone, and that indeed they are and will be bred as a product that requires another product (pesticides), that traps farmers into a cycle of buying in order to sell, and that does nothing to preserve the traditional foodways and seed sovereignty of individual communities. He spoke of the stories told through seeds, of indigenous peoples, of African American communities, of immigrant communities, and of the seed-saving practices of someone’s father, who always selected the best beans for baking, whose seeds now lived on, in perpetuity.

I once saw seed-saving as a quirky DIY task that made me feel pretty neat, a way to continue my own cycle of growth, but now I see it as necessary– to support my local food growers, to preserve the history written within each seed, to help us grow and adapt as our climate most certainly changes.

As the slide pictured above proclaims, “Every seed is a story.” I know which stories I want to tell. Do you?

The Seed Library Social Network

List of 230+ Heirloom, Independent Seed Companies

 

 

 

 

Is Your Fetus More of a Cheddar or a Blue?

How far along are you? Lentil (six weeks)? Lime (twelve weeks)? Leek (a whopping 38 weeks)?

Better question: do you find the goofy emails letting you know what piece of produce your fetus currently resembles to be as off-base as I do?  I mean, come on.  No way does my baby go from a rutabaga to a wimpy scallion in a week. Have you ever even seen a scallion, BabyCenter? A twenty-six week old fetus eats alliums like that for breakfast.

The produce-as-incubated chart seems nearly ubiquitous among us breeders.  It’s adorable at first (my little peanut! baby is a whole peach this week!), but I soon grew weary of the not-quite-accurate fruits and veg my growing baby was compared to. For one, there’s the wild discrepancy between individual pieces of produce themselves– I mean, are we talking a wee heirloom green zebra tomato, or a fertilizer-fed big honkin’ beefsteak? Plus, you know what’s better than head of lettuce?  A whole wheel of cheese.

Armed with the belief that cheese > all things, especially lettuce, and a pretty solid working knowledge of the weight of individual cheese wheels (or in the case of the early weeks, the weight of bits and bobs of cheese), I correlated estimated fetal weight by week with the weights of wheels of delicious, delicious cheese. So now you can tell people your growing babe is the size of a wheel of meaty, savory cow’s milk cheese, handcrafted by members of the (THE) vonTrapp family, rather than a sad Idaho Gold.

I started at eight weeks because before that, your embryo is basically a speck of casein protein floating amidst individual fat globules. Here, my friends, are your cheeses:

Week 8: Grain of Ricotta

Week 8: Grain of Ricotta

Photo Credit: Rebecca Siegel

Weighing in at a whole gram, your cheesy embryo is about the size of one of the grains of ricotta that gets stuck to the cheesecloth as you strain it– in other words, tiny, mild, and totally unripened.

Week 9: Cottage Cheese Curd

Hey, your embryo doesn’t have a tail anymore, weighs a couple of grams, but is now the size of a whole cottage cheese curd!

Week 10: Perle Mozzarella

Week 10: Mozzarella Perle

Photo Credit: Lioni Mozzarella

Kumquats are fine and all, but I’d rather have a bitty ball of mozzarella growing in my belly.

Week 11: Cheddar Cheese Curd

Week 11: Cheddar Curd

Photo Credit: Wisconsin Cheese Mart

Since your fetus has started to hiccup this week, it’s only right that it would be the size of a squeaky cheddar curd.

Week 12: Marinated Ciliegine

Photo Credit- Lioni Mozzarella

Photo Credit: Lioni Mozzarella

Sure, this ciliegine is basically the same cheese as the perle above, just coated in herbs, but fetal development at this stage doesn’t leave me with a lot to work with. Hey, herbs!

Week 13: Chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano

Week 13: Chunk of Parm

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Phew! As we leave the first trimester, we get to head into the good stuff, like the chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano that weighs about as much as a fetus at 13 weeks– nearly an ounce.

Week 14: Cabecou en Feuille

Week 14: Cabecou en Feuille

Photo Credit: Fromagerie Sciboz

A sweet little disc of goat cheese, dotted with peppercorns and wrapped in leaves macerated in a fruity eau-de-vie– that’s my idea of a solid week 14. Also, your fetus can pee this week.

Week 15: Vermont Creamery’s Bijou

Week 15: Bijou

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

Would you look at the rind on that! Delightful buttons of Vermont Creamery’s soft-ripened goat’s milk Bijou line up perfectly with 15 weeks of gestation. Since morning sickness is on its way out the door for most people at this stage, I highly recommend a Bijou or four to make up for lost cheese-eating time.

Week 16: Rivers Edge Chevre Up in Smoke

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Nuggets of dreamy goat cheese wrapped in maple leaves and spritzed with bourbon before smoking are the closest you’re going to get to either bourbon or smoking for a while, so celebrate your hundred-gram fetus with a round of Rivers Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke.

Week 17: Prairie Fruits Farm Angel Food

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

I very distinctly remember the first time I tasted this cheese, on the top of a butcher block in the classroom overlooking the counter at Murray’s Bleecker Street store. “YOU GUYS!” I am pretty sure I yelled, “THIS PASTE. You have to touch this paste. It– it– it– it quivers.” Also, this is maybe my favorite cheese description that I ever wrote:

Amidst the sprawling soybeans and copious cornfields of central Illinois, if you listen closely you can hear an occasional bleat or baa and can sometimes catch the scent of just-formed curd on a warm breeze. Here you’ll find Prairie Fruits Farm, owned by soil scientists Wes Jarrel and Leslie Cooperband, just a few miles away from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where people take farming so seriously that they built their library below ground so as not to block the on-campus corn plots from sunlight. Leslie and Wes take the care of their land and creation of their cheese just as seriously, as the first farmstead goat cheese makers in the state—and their attention to detail shows. The carefully hand-ladled curd lends the paste a supple, delicate texture, which slowly ripens to near liquidity, only just held in by a paper-thin white rind. Prairie Fruits’ herd of Nubian and LaMancha goats graze among the berry brambles and fruit trees, producing exceptional milk whose quality shines in the clean, lactic finish with a hint of milky sweetness. Honor its Midwestern roots with a lemony wheat beer.

If you listen closely, she says. Just formed curd, she says. Oh, boy.  Good thing this fetus in my belly is half-Illinoisian.

Week 18: Vermont Creamery Coupole

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

Photo Credit: Vermont Creamery

I’d say the delicate wrinkly rind on Vermont Creamery’s soft-ripened goat dome Coupole very nearly resembles the velvety, squishy skin of a newborn sprinkled with a fine layer of baby powder.  Except baby powder is a major no-no for newborns (and babies in utero, I’d imagine), and everything about Coupole and its clean, citric tang and subtle minerality is a definite yes-yes.

Week 19: Jasper Hill Farm Harbison

Did you register for three wheels of Jasper Hill Farm’s Harbison, a cow’s milk custard bomb encased in a mushroomy, living, breathing rind and bound with a belt of spruce cambium that imparts just enough of a woodsy aroma to make you feel like you went camping, but with hot showers?  No? Well, you have about twenty-one weeks to rectify that.

Week 20: Capriole Piper’s Pyramide

Photo Credit: Capriole Goat Cheese

Photo Credit: Capriole Goat Cheese

Let’s be real: we WISH our halfway-done fetuses looked as gorgeous as a Piper’s Pyramide (named after maker Judith Schad’s granddaughter, how perfect is that?!), a goat milk treasure boasting a fresh, lactic paste encased by a thin, velveteen rind that just softens the sprinkling of paprika cozying up to the creamline.  Crafted by Capriole Goat Cheese, just across the Indiana-Kentucky border from Louisville.

Week 21: Robiola di Capra en Foglie di Fico

Photo Credit: La Casera

Photo Credit: La Casera

Just as your baby is snugly encased in your growing belly, this Italian goat cheese ripens within the loving embrace of fresh fig leaves. And much like your wee one, this guy can pack a punch after weeks of ripening, transforming from a bright, tangy wheel to a molten dollop of vegetal goodness.  That last part doesn’t really translate to your baby, but you get what I’m saying.

Week 22: Reblochon

Reblochon is said to have originated as cheese made from the milk left in the cow to cheat the farmer’s landlord out of his full tax. You know the old game– milk the cow, but not all the way, pay the tax on the not-quite-full milking, go back and get yours in the form of that left-behind milk. Sticking it to the man tastes inherently better than not, which is why Reblochon is so completely delicious and pretty much illegal in the US (jk, it’s because of moisture content and import laws). Incidentally, 22 weeks is the developmental stage that most experts recommend that you begin reading socialist tracts to your developing baby, in lieu of consuming soft, unpasteurized cheeses produced in countries with single payer health care programs. As always, consult your doctor before making this or any other parenting decision.

Week 23: Jasper Hill Farm Moses Sleeper

Moses Sleeper, so completely lovely. Downy rind, buttery paste redolent of roasted cauliflower, creamy beyond measure.  Also, it has “sleep” in the name which lol babies and sleeping amirite?

Week 24: Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere

As if this list isn’t evidence enough, I, like much of the cheese world, have kiiiiiiind of a thing for the cheeses of Jasper Hill. Winnimere is the kind of cheese you want to eat, kiss, go swimming in, have raise your children, and be mayor of your town. Plus, the dang cheese is named WINNIE of all things and won the Best of Show award the very same year we took our Winnie to the American Cheese Society conference (ooooOOOOooooOOOOoooo spooky).

Week 25: Chaource

Photo Credit: Chaource

Photo Credit: Chaource

Chaource, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese from the eponymous French village, is a little like a small, spritely wheel of Brie decided to have a baby with a slice of cheesecake.  It also has a lot in common with babies! For example, it’s been made since at least the Middle Ages, just like babies, it’s soft and mild, just like babies, and is generally eaten when young, just like babies! Yum.

Week 26: VonTrapp Farmstead Oma

The hills are alive with the sound of the end of your second trimester coming to a crashing halt.  Hope you didn’t get used to all that lack-of-nausea and cute-baby-bump business– this fetus is about to start kickin’ you in the ribs, woo hoo! Placate the imminent heartburn with the savory, umami-laden meatiness of vonTrapp Farmstead Oma, carefully ripened by the experts at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. If you’re one of those people who likes to live dangerously and occasionally consume a portion of an alcoholic beverage during your final trimester, pair that Green Mountain goo-bomb (what did I just say?!) with a few sips of a Trappist ale like Orval.

Week 27: Tete de Moine

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

This cheese is named “Head of Monk” and you serve it by putting it on the above wacky contraption and shaving tiny rosettes which is like giving a monk a haircut and then eating his hair and I don’t know what else I can possibly say about this except that it kind of tastes like Gruyere and also hey there third trimester.

Week 28: Brie Fermier

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Saveur

Brie seems ubiquitous in the States, but real Brie, that is, authentic Brie de Meaux, is actually illegal for sale or import into the US.  By law, name protected Brie must be made from raw milk, and for quality purposes cannot be ripened beyond the requisite 60 days required by US law for raw milk cheeses.  Have no fear! Excellent pasteurized versions exist, like this Brie Fermier, or farmstead Brie from Ferme de Jouvence– the Farm of Rejuvenation or literally, the Farm of Youth.  Youth!  Like a baby!

PS: Here is a photo of me feeding cheese from this same farm to my dear sweet niece when she was five months old without her mother’s knowledge. I am a terrible aunt.

zari camembert

Week 29: Consider Bardwell Manchester

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Consider Bardwell’s Manchester, a raw goat milk jewel from a bucolic farm that straddles the New York-Vermont state line, just might be the cheese that made my babies. That sounds weird, huh? It was the first cheese I bought at Murray’s before I’d moved to New York– the cheese that led me to apply there, which led me to a job there, etc., etc., and then I met my husband in a cheese cave, etc., etc., babies. (When visiting Consider Bardwell years ago, I thought I’d lost my engagement ring [OH MY GOD IS IT IN THE CHEESE VAT?!] but it was just in my pocket. Also on that trip I almost ran into a chicken crossing the road.) #coolstorybro

Week 30: Pecorino Foglie di Noce

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Birth and cheese are all about timing, and nowhere does this ring more true than with Pecorino Foglie di Noce from Emilia Romagna. The raw sheep milk cheese (aroma: fresh cut timber + wet stone + rain on a wool sweater) is aged in barrels of walnut leaves that must be gathered during a precise window, meaning the cheese can be aged but twice a year. Two times a year probably still seems like too many times for a mom gestating a baby, especially in her third trimester. Luckily, aged cheeses are packed with the protein and fats that a growing fetus needs!

Week 31: Fourme d’Ambert

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Fourme d’Ambert, an amiable cow’s milk blue from central France, is delightfully pleasant, but its real outstanding quality in this context is that it could almost certainly be smushed into the shape of a baby and secured on your chest in a Baby Bjorn should you ever need to smuggle a few pounds of blue cheese into a Music Together class.

Week 32: Tomme Crayeuse

Cheeky mongers like to call this cheese “Tom Cruise” but I refuse because I think that’s mean to this cheese. It’s like lions mane mushrooms cooked for a million hours in a broth made exclusively of Kewpie mayo + alfafa + loam. In other words, some healthy pregnancy cravings + pica.

Week 33: Meadow Creek Grayson

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Meadow Creek Grayson can be funkier than a Diaper Genie, more yellow than a wicked case of jaundice, and more umami-laden than breastmilk (I’ve heard). It’s all raw milk all the time, given kindly by sweet Jersey mama cows in Galax, Virginia, so it’s the perfect post-baby gift for those moms who abstained from the good stuff for 40ish weeks. (Note: BabyCenter says your 33 week fetus is about the same size as a pineapple, which is just about the only thing that sounds like it’s more painful to give birth to than a human.)

Week 34: Quadrello di Bufala

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

<Insert joke about how a pregnant lady is like a water buffalo here.> <Eat lots of Quadrello di Bufala to quell the pain of getting decked by a 34-weeks-pregnant lady after comparing her to a large ruminant.>

Week 35: Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue

Vermonter blue cheese fetuses are outnumbered by cows, love all things maple, can tolerate several dozen feet of snow and subzero temperatures, and are really good at forestry. Also, not unlike Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue, they pair well with dark chocolate or roasted fennel.

Week 36: Chiriboga Blue

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

With its dense fudgy texture and mild savory flavor, Chiriboga Blue seems like the result of some sort of alchemic fusion of a whole cheesecake, many sticks of butter, and a smattering of blue cheese.  Which, hey, you’re nine months pregnant, you can probably just go ahead and indulge in those things, too.

Week 37: Manchego

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Nutty (like a new parent with sleep deprivation), gamey (like the pajamas you will wear for a week straight during said sleep deprivation), and utterly delicious (like that sweet sweet new baby smell), Manchego– like puppies, kittens, and wrinkly little babes– is a crowd-pleaser for a reason. Pair with a handful of Marcona almonds for the fat, protein, and minerals a growing baby needs, and with fruity membrillo for the sweet kick mom most certainly deserves.

Week 38: Salva Cremasco

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

A curdy center paste that smacks of buttermilk, a dank, mushroomy creamline, and the gnarliest rind of them all– a few wedges of this passed round to the L&D staff is bound to get you the primo IV placement.

Week 39: Gorgonzola Cremificato

Photo Credit: Murray's Cheese

Photo Credit: Murray’s Cheese

Oh, sweet decadence: mild Gorgonzola Dolce taken up a notch with the addition of heavy cream. Pretty fluffy and delicately cheesy, just like a newborn!

Week 40: Beenleigh Blue

Photo Credit: Neals Yard Dairy

Photo Credit: Neals Yard Dairy

Ever-elusive: Beenleigh Blue and babies born on their due date.  Oh sure, I’ve heard about them, I’ve met them.  I’ve tasted and sold Beenleigh Blue before, too, and I think I’ve seen it since then. I can just barely conjure up its fudgy texture, seaside bouquet, tempered sweetness. But they mostly exist in whispers and message boards and Google searches and the experiences of others.

Week 41: Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve

Photo Credit: Uplands Cheese

Photo Credit: Uplands Cheese

Considering that I had Winnie at 41 weeks, Georgie two days shy of 41 weeks, and they’rewas pretty much perfect, I think this pairing of Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin–all  fruity brightness, toasted pecans, and fresh hay– with 41 weeks of gestation sounds just right. I’m kicking myself for not packing a hunk of this and a bottle of vin jaune in my hospital bag.

Week 42: The World’s Largest Cheese!

Photo Credit: NYWF64.com

Photo Credit: NYWF64.com

Get it? Because jokes about how huge your baby is when you’re postdate are hilarious, right?

Hey, that’s it.  All the weeks! Now I just need to have another baby so I can pose with each of these wheels under my shirt week by week. That won’t be weird at all!

Finally, Fermentation: Making Yogurt at Home

When I was reworking the template for this site, trying to make it a little more blog-y and a little less Angelfire/Geocities, I added the subtitle “Family // Fermentation // Faith” mostly because those are the things I like to spend my time thinking about and doing, and also alliteration. But while I’ve written a lot about family and a little about faith, I haven’t touched on fermentation, which is completely nuts because HAVE YOU MET ME?

At one point a couple weeks ago, we had a sourdough starter, lacto-fermented red cabbage kraut, yogurt, goat cheese, and plum vinegar all fermenting in the kitchen, plus all manner of pickles hogging counter space, a whole heap of homebrew supplies occupying the top of the fridge, not to mention the fermented and fermentables we buy from other people: sour beers and pet-nat wines and raw milk cheese and shrubs and ciders and miso and and and and. We’re not even the most ferment-obsessed people we know.

I’m actually not particularly skilled at the “set it and forget it” variety of fermentation–chop some cabbage, toss with salt, weigh down, and boom! kraut! or mix up some flour and water and leave in a corner of your kitchen, feeding with more flour and water, and boom! starter!– mostly because those are the exact two steps I am able to do: 1) Set it; and 2) Forget it; with primary emphasis on the second step, and zero attention paid to the unwritten third step which is 3) Unforget it, because you actually need to check on it, oh whoops, now your starter is covered in some crap called hooch and your kraut wasn’t submerged enough and has become a giant slime pile that smells like the annual convention of all farts ever to have existed in the world.

Somehow, though, the 30-minute-squeeze-into-naptime-after-you-snarf-a-PBJ-and-maybe-take-a-shower-jk-about-that-shower project tends to typically work out, such that I’ve been able to consistently make yogurt and occasionally make cheese for us. Yogurt is a couple of ingredients, just a few steps, and lots of fun to make (I mean, for people like me who delight at milk being turned into other things, which I assume you are, too, if we’re friends.)

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Half-gallon of milk, not ultra-pasteurized
  • Half-cup of your favorite plain yogurt
  • Glass jars for storing yogurt
  • Double boiler or a metal bowl that can fit snugly atop a pot
  • Kitchen thermometer
  • Some kitchen towels or cloth napkins or those receiving blankets you brought home from the hospital because, seriously, what else are you using them for?
  • A warm spot (between 90°F and 110°F)– a gas oven with a pilot light works great, or you can start the preheating cycle on an electric oven at the lowest temp for a couple of minutes, turn it off, and shut the door. Other people have used crock pots, coolers, heating pads, lots of towels, etc., for incubating yogurt– just don’t start a fire or anything, and make sure your temp is around 100°F so that the cultures can incubate and thicken within a relatively safe time frame. 

A few notes:

There are only two ingredients in yogurt, so try to make them the best you can! Homemade yogurt is so much less expensive than store-bought that you can afford to go schmancy on the milk. Also, full fat, for the love of God. This is not 1985.

Unstrained, the yield is pretty close to 1:1 milk to yogurt, meaning that a half-gallon of milk will yield close to half-gallon of yogurt.  You can easily cut the recipe in half, if you don’t go through yogurt like I do, which is akin to the yogurt intake of a professional yogurt eating team in spring training.

You can use any plain yogurt with live cultures to culture your yogurt, whether it’s strained/Greek or not, but I like to choose something I like the flavor and texture of unstrained, because it’s a more clear indication of how your own yogurt will turn out unstrained.

Okay, on with the show!

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Make sure everything you’re using– jars, lids, pot, bowl, double boiler, any spoons or spatulas, thermometer probe, etc– are all cleaned and sterilized.  Since you’re trying to grow microbes in your yogurt, you want to get rid of anything extraneous–your kitchen has plenty of microbes that can cause wonky stuff in your finished yogurt, but those things are easily controlled with a good wash and sanitizing routine. I wash with hot and soapy water, and then sterilize either in boiling water or according to the package instructions on something like Star San Sanitizer, which you can use if you homebrew, too.

If you go with cream-top or unhomogenized milk, you can either leave the hunk o’cream in the milk as you warm it, or scoop it out and use it in your coffee or spread it on bread or something equally delicious, which is what I usually do.  Sometimes that extra butterfat doesn’t totally integrate into the yogurt once it’s chilled, and leaves little unincorporated globs of fat on the top of the yogurt.  Not the worst thing in the world, but I prefer to use it elsewhere.

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Fill the bottom of a double boiler or a stockpot with hot water (no need to go with cold from the tap, since you’re just using the water to heat) and place over high heat. Fill the top of the double boiler or the metal bowl atop your pot with milk.

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Heat the milk to between 180°F and 195°F.  You’re essentially re-pasteurizing the milk (or pasteurizing it for the first time, if you’re starting with raw), not because you hate raw milk and its proponents, but because you’re going to introduce live cultures and leave them at a temperature at which you want them to get comfy and grow– so you only want the cultures you’re introducing to grow, not any random hangers-on.  This step creates a blank canvas for your yogurt.  It also serves to denature some of the proteins in the milk (similar to the way that heat helps to denature proteins in whey when making ricotta), which will help the yogurt coagulate later.

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Remove the top of the double boiler or the bowl containing your milk and set to cool on a trivet or heat-safe surface.  If you’d like to speed up the cooling process, you can place the bowl of milk in a container of cool water and stir gently.

Cool the milk to between 100°F and 115°F and gently stir in your yogurt. Stir up and down, back and forth, and around, so that the yogurt is evenly distributed throughout the milk. Pour the milk and yogurt mixture into your jars, and place the lids on top. Wrap with kitchen towels/cloth napkins/receiving blankets/cloth diapers (jk, kind of), and place in your oven with pilot light or other warm place. We keep a thermometer in our oven so that I can tell what temp it is, which I highly recommend.

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I like to stick the jars on a sheet pan so that they don’t wobble too much when pulling the rack in and out of the oven.

Leave the jars in the oven for six to eight hours.  If I’m making yogurt during the day, I’ll check it after six hours to see if some whey has started to separate, if it’s thickened, and if it’s as tart as I’d like, and if not, I’ll let it keep culturing for another couple hours.  If I’m letting it culture overnight, though, I’ll just put it in the oven before bed, and check it when I’m up (assuming that’s a full eight hours and Winnie didn’t wake up at 4:30 am again.)  When you check the texture, keep in mind that it will continue to thicken once cooled in the fridge.

During this incubation period, the second transformation (following the transformation through heat that we initiated earlier) is taking place: the live cultures in the scoop of yogurt you added are eating the lactose in the milk, and converting the lactose to lactic acid.  Then, the lactic acid is changing the structure of the proteins in the milk, breaking them apart and reforming them, thickening the milk into yogurt. It’s the same sort of thing that happens in creme fraiche, and it’s one of the beginning steps of cheesemaking, too.

I’ve recommended six to eight hours because that’s what’s worked for me, but you could experiment with shorter or longer culturing times, as well– keeping in mind that longer times may carry a small food safety risk, since you’re keeping a high-moisture product in the temperature “danger zone” for a longer period of time, though acid production would mitigate the risk on some level.  Anyway, you do you, and your yogurt, too.

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When your yogurt is done, you’ll notice a little bit of yellow-ish, clear whey starting to separate.  You can either pour this off, strain it out (I like a fine mesh strainer as opposed to butter muslin or cheesecloth– easier to clean), or stir it in.  Your yogurt, your call.

Homemade yogurt with Blenheim apricots, dried wild Maine blueberries, and a drizzle of raw honey

 

Make sure to scoop out a smidge while it’s still warm– it’s one of the singular delights of making your own yogurt at home.

Check out these resources for other methods and more info:

Homemade Yogurt | David Lebovitz 

The Science of Great Yogurt | Brod & Taylor

Interview with Sandor Katz | The Splendid Table

Fermenting Yogurt at Home | National Center for Home Food Preservation

Happy yogurting!

Dinner with Winifred



Winnie made me dinner tonight. After Mike washed the purslane, Winnie took it for a couple (dozen) rounds in the salad spinner, which she carried back and forth between the kitchen and living room so she could show me how it worked.

With everything spread out on the floor around them, Mike talked her through sprinkling a pinch of salt and a shake of mustard powder in a small jar and twisting the pepper mill. They tasted and smelled the olive oil and vinegar before pouring them into the jar, and when Mike pointed out how everything remained separated in layers, Winnie exclaimed, “OH WOW!” We shook and shook and shook the jar until the layers were gone.

She split the purslane between two more bowls, by which I mean she moved it from one bowl to another and then started over a few times, until each bowl contained at least one piece of purslane, and the floor got its fair share, too.

And then she 100% lost it, and screamed for a solid five minutes because the broom wouldn’t do quite what she wanted it to.

It was maybe the best dinner I’ve ever had.

What We Ate: Christmas Eve Edition

I’m working on recording our holiday celebrations— what we ate, what we carried over from years past, and what we started anew— so that we can refer back in future years and see how our celebratory canon has grown and changed.  For both Mike and me, food is our rhythm, what centers us, so we’ll start there— with what we ate on the eve of our celebration of the Christmas season.

Growing up, we nearly always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house.  My grandmother would make a big pot of something or other, we put on Christmas carols and light the fire, and look at all of the ornaments that predated our births.  There were always sugar plums, hunks of peppermint bark, and Poppie’s chocolate-dipped, chunky peanut butter filled Ritz cracker sandwiches.  If I was lucky, I’d been there the day before, setting up the double boiler and dipping those peanut butter smeared crackers into the melted chocolate, with the bits and bobs of cooled chocolate drizzle peeled from wax paper as my reward.

We rotated what was in the aforementioned dinner pot— sometimes a stew with chicken and green chili, sometimes posole, and sometimes, most memorably for me, pashofa, a Choctaw stew of hominy and pork.

Traditional preparation of pashofa over an open fire is incredible to me.  Ours was never so traditional, using canned or dried hominy and the stovetop rather than a fire, but it was still warming and filing. One of these days, I’ll learn to prepare hominy myself.  This recipe is what I’ve used to re-create my grandmother’s.

Pashofa

  • 2 lbs pork (something bone-in— I like ribs, but you could use ham hock or bone-in loin)
  • 1 lb dried white pearl hominy, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Salt to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large dutch oven or stockpot.  When hot, brown the outside of pork enough to make your kitchen smell really, really good. Remove from heat, add hominy and enough water to cover by a couple inches (you’ll read a lot of recipes that say you should bring the water to a boil before adding hominy, but I’ve never noticed a difference). Bring water to a boil, reduce heat to low, and continue cooking for two or three hours. Pashofa is done when hominy is tender and broth tastes meaty.  If you find the flavor is lacking after a few hours, turn up the heat and continue cooking without a lid to concentrate the liquid.  Salt to taste.  We always served with hot sauce, raw onion, limes, and/or fresh cilantro. 

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Before moving to New York, I’d never heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and even still, its mysteries are still relegated to the Instagram feeds of friends. We’ve no plans to convert to Italian-American Catholic traditions anytime soon, but I was struck with a little holiday inspiration on a very, very tired shopping trip a few days before Christmas Eve.

Mike was going to be working late on Christmas Eve, and I had plans to be out of the house running around with last minute errands and serving at our parish’s family Christmas Eve service.  A big, homecooked meal wasn’t in the cards.  While we were stocking up for Christmas dinner (more on that to come later), Winnie lost it.  She was d-o-n-e with being out of the house, with being in the cart, with being held, with all of it.  While Mike stood in the checkout line, I walked the aisles with Winnie, pointing out the kitties on the pet food, the cows and goats on milk cartons, and suggesting we smell each bag of coffee beans, you know, for fun.  We meandered down the aisle containing canned fish, I remembered that we were probably low on them (we go through sort of a ridiculous amount of what Mike and I have affectionately deemed the “tiny fishes”) and I started browsing to see what looked good.  Dang, I thought, I kind of want a lot of these.  Hey! I thought again (I was doing a lot of thinking), maybe I want SEVEN of these! SEVEN TINNED FISHES?  You don’t say.

So here’s what we had.  These aren’t recipes so much as suggestions/ingredient lists.

Seven Tinned Fishes

Fishes, tinned.

Fishes, tinned.

Kippered herring

  • tossed with toasted pecans, chopped parsley, hot Calabrian peppers and golden raisins, with a splash of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar

Bonito del Norte tuna

  • combined with cara cara orange supremes, diced Cortland apples, and ruby red sauerkraut (any kimchi or lacto-fermented veggie would work)

Sardines in oil

  • pureed with sherry, a healthy dash of Colman’s mustard powder, and capers

Portuguese sardines with tomato

  • tossed with finely chopped olives (we used a variety), diced avocado, and a squeeze of lime

Anchovy filets

  • served with butter, cornichons, and bread

Smoked sprat deviled eggs

  • Boil eggs, mash yolks with mayo and prepared mustard in a 4:2:1 ratio. Add one sprat for every two eggs, continue to mash until sprats all but disappear. Fill egg whites with mixture and sprinkle generously with sweet Hungarian paprika. 

Herring with herbs

The miracle of the loaves and the fishes started to make so much more sense after this meal— I think we ate those gussied up tinned fishes for another ten days, and still didn’t make a dent in them.

Fishes, de-tinned.

Fishes, de-tinned.

For Christmas Day, Mike and Winnie cooked up a breakfast of yeasted waffles and smoked salmon tart and a dinner of cocoa and coffee rubbed beef tenderloin, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas shrimp (some day I’ll write down the recipe), and roasted Brussels sprouts.