Peace Corps Yogurt in a Thermos

In July, we have two straight weeks in Seattle when we plan for next year. To jazz it up this year, deputies were asked if they wanted to do “an early morning activity” just for fun. Tom decided he would lead a tennis clinic. Lynn was supposed to do a yoga course. Mary Alice offered a power walk. Nothing is fun in the morning for me (I’m a night owl) except cooking! I offered to teach people how to make homemade yogurt and granola. I learned how to make yogurt in the Peace Corps the old school way, without a thermometer and using a thermos in the sun. I have never been a fan of yogurt but when you are in Africa, you miss things you took for granted. I remember trying to make it in the winter and wrapping up my thermos in a blanket and keeping it warm in the afternoon sun.

 1 liter of skim or full cream milk (about 4 cups)

2-3 tablespoons of plain unsweetened yogurt

2-3 tablespoons of powdered milk (if desired for thickness)

All of the pots and utensils must be clean. Heat milk until it is almost to a boil (140 degrees F if you are counting) and let it cool. You want it bath temperature, to be able to stick your finger in it for three to five seconds and not pull it out from the heat. At this temperature (110 degrees F if you must know), mix in two or three heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt. This is your culture. Mix in powdered milk if you like a thicker yogurt. Pour into clean thermos and cap tightly. Keep warm for 7 hours. Do not disturb. Check on thickness and tartness after 7 hours and remove from thermos and refrigerate.

Troubleshooting: Do not leave more than 8 hours or else it will become too tart. If your yogurt is too runny add more powdered milk next time. If your yogurt doesn’t thicken at all then you probably killed the culture early (milk was too hot when you added the yogurt). When I make the runny yogurt mistake, I add lemon juice and heat mixture to a boil and strain it in cheese cloth. Let curds sit in cheese cloth and the water/whey will drip out. You’ll have a nice spreadable cheese in the end! Or freeze the runny yogurt in an ice cream maker and make frozen yogurt.