I hadn't made yogurt since before the baby was born, and I didn't realize how much I missed homemade yogurt until I made it again this week. Prompted in part by the gallon of fresh raw milk we got while in Vermont over the weekend, I was eager to turn it into tasty yogurt: the perfect breakfast complement to homemade granola and maple biscuits.
I made yogurt for the first time a couple years ago and it was revolutionary. I had no idea, really, what yogurt actually is; how extraordinary it is to watch plain milk transform into an entirely new and different food literally overnight. Along with bread-baking, yogurt-making was a central force in revealing to me just how much we are able to produce in our own homes, for our own families. It triggered my enduring desire to shift my home from a consumption unit to a production unit. And it's yummy and wholesome to boot!
Right now I am reading Michael Pollan's excellent book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. In it, he traces the evolution of cooking from early hunter-gatherer days to the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents, to the current state of America's industrial food complex. One thing that really struck me is Pollan's observation that what was commonplace less than a century ago is now considered "extreme." The act of yogurt-making, for instance, was something familiar and necessary and expected for many of our near ancestors; yet today, yogurt-making is foreign to most of us. Pollan writes: "And it is entirely possible that, within another generation, cooking a meal from scratch will seem as exotic and ambitious -- as 'extreme' --as most of us today regard brewing beer or baking a loaf of bread or putting up a crock of sauerkraut" (p. 17). He argues that when and if that happens, we as a species will have become completely disconnected from our food and the natural cycles that produce it--much to the detriment of our health and culture.
Doing something as simple, and yet "extreme," as yogurt-making is an important way to reconnect with our food and with the heirloom skills that were once an ordinary, everyday part of homemaking. It is also an important lesson for our children, who clearly notice the difference between homemade and store-bought and readily appreciate and prefer the former.
Our homes are powerful places of production. And there are so many lessons to be learned, and re-learned, within those cozy walls.