I've made yogurt for over twenty years. At first, I didn't think much of it. My mom made yogurt, bread, and cheese. When my son weaned himself at nine months and wouldn't take any milk, my mom, who happened to be visiting, made yogurt and fed it to him. He took to it. Then she left. I had to learn to make yogurt, and have made it ever since.
Under COVID-19 the whole business of making came into focus with a force. My son turned 24 this past year. It's not an issue of survival anymore. Why do I still make yogurt?
The past 11 pandemic months have been busy with teaching online, learning curves, and much adrenaline. After eight hours in front of a screen, I don't sound like myself, can barely string words together grammatically. My homegrown screen concussion means you have to listen to what I mean, not what I say. You know what I mean?
I began to pay even more attention to things that need time and patience to make. Attention is the beginning of devotion, says Mary Oliver.
My kids still refuse to eat store-bought yogurt. I have myself to blame for fine-tuning their tastebuds to homemade food. Junk food here and there, but who will not be seduced into junk food once in a while, when it's more readily available than hot lunch at school. When I was exhausted, when the last thing I wanted was to get up early to pack a hot lunch, I tried to get them to buy lunch from the cafeteria. My son would say: But why? Your food is much tastier. My friends line up to try it. I would smile, and pack a homemade hot lunch. After all, isn't that how I was not fooled into eating food with a dangerously long shelf life, or "yogurt" with unrecognizable ingredients, which tasted more like custard?
If you know the taste of real yogurt, or homemade food, you don't give it up easily.
When Danone decided to expand to the Bulgarian market, they had to learn to manufacture real yogurt. It's hard to fool a nation who invented yogurt into buying artificially fabricated custard concoctions labeled yogurt. Even the bacteria is named after the place — Lactobacillus bulgaricus. You don't mess with such culture. Except, it's easy to mess with it. Raise a generation on un-yogurt, and you can sell them anything called yogurt. Making yogurt gained more significance when I lived in the United States and was numbed into "convenience," and fear from the Immigration & Naturalization Services. Don't try this at home, was the motto. Making yogurt became a way of resisting.
Now we're trying all sorts of things at home.
To make yogurt you need a starter. I always keep a few scoops from the previous yogurt. Previous success propels. For beginners, if you don't know anyone who makes yogurt, there are the freeze-dried bacteria you can get at stores that support making. Warm up the milk on medium heat. You cannot rush this. Otherwise, the milk will burn on the bottom of your pan. Use some of the warm milk to activate your starter. That gets the bacteria all excited — and curious. Along the way someone gave me a "yogurt maker." I kept the thermometer from that contraption and continued to be the yogurt maker myself.
They say hope is the last thing that dies. But who teaches you how to keep it alive? On purpose, like yogurt bacteria? Bombardment with bad news these days brings its own flavor of debilitating. Zombies stopped being funny when I realized we're all being turned into zombies. Of course they want your brains. What better metaphor for the attention economy? I see it in the kids I teach. I call this effect the fried-brain syndrome. From imaginative, playful, and compassionate beings, they shrink into screen addicts, laser-focused on a single thought — more screen-time.
To read the rest of this story, visit Motherwell.