A story of yogurt: The path from frugality to richness

A story of yogurt

Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay, Laura Menze traces the origins of a Friday night ritual to reveal its accumulated layers of meaning.

The path of homemade is not always initiated by beautifully rich and noble causes. I have made cards when I was unmotivated to go to the store. I made coupons as gifts when I had no idea what to buy. And I started making yogurt when I became frustrated by the weekly expense at the grocery store. Sometimes I wish frugality were not the motivation, but in the story of homemade, it is good and important to remember our sometimes-simple initial motives in order to mark the shift toward the rich and layered reasons that cause us to continue.

The workweek often leaves me emotionally tired on Friday. My mind continues to spin, my body on guard to deescalate crisis. I needed a way to finish the week—an external rhythm to usher my body from work into home. This longing intersected with a curiosity to make yogurt (and simultaneous cost calculations) and so a Friday night rhythm was born. Now my Friday nights are spent quietly in my kitchen. Somewhere between heating milk and incubating jars on my counter, I trust the broken and undone pieces of work to be held by God and rest in being home.

Several months after my rhythm of making yogurt began, friends began sharing vegetables from their garden with me. As they gave these gifts freely, I realized that homemade yogurt was something I could share freely and something that I knew they would receive as a gift. And so, I began making yogurt not just for myself, but for them as well. This weekly sharing of yogurt allows a weekly sharing of lives in “food handoffs”—we both receive gifts of the other that we are unable to do alone. Not only are our individual lives held by something homemade, but our relationship is held by something homemade.

This rhythm of my home and sharing has been in place for over a year and we have all remarked how our routines have been influenced, namely when the rhythm is disrupted for whatever reason—an out-of-town trip, the day of our milk delivery changing. Choosing something homemade invites limits. If I drop the container of milk upon the ground, there is not yogurt that week. If I share yogurt with dinner guests for dessert, I find an alternative breakfast the next morning. If I am out of town for a weekend, they cannot have yogurt on Sunday afternoon pancakes. It would be easy to argue these felt limits as ridiculous when Kroger’s is within walking distance, but by choosing to accept the limits of making yogurt once a week with what milk I have, the rhythm is not an artificial routine marked by a calendar day alone, but rather a cycle of making and receiving, eating and waiting. It becomes more than a commodity to consume whenever I want; it is a gift of God who created cows and milk and the transforming power of bacteria.

Though initially making yogurt was spurred on by frugality, curiosity of whether it could be done, and the satisfaction of not having milk spoil in my refrigerator, yogurt has grown to become so much more than food or frugality. I could go to the grocery store and buy yogurt whenever I want. Perhaps I could save money if I did, but even if I did save a few dollars, I would continue to make yogurt every Friday night. Homemade yogurt is more than yogurt, for it is in the process of making and sharing and knowing limits that I appreciate yogurt as more than a commodity, richer than something simply to consume and use. In its homemade-ness, I experience rhythms of rest and relationship that store-bought yogurt lacks, even in the inherent cost of time when it is homemade.


How to Make Yogurt at Home

  1. Pour milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and heat to 180 degrees.
  2. Cool milk to 120 degrees.
  3. Stir several spoonfuls of yogurt starter into a measuring cup of cooled milk. One recipe says ½ cup yogurt to ½ gallon of milk, but I don’t measure. Any plain yogurt with active live cultures can be used as a starter or you can use some from your last batch.
  4. Pour the milk with the starter back into the large pot of milk and stir.
  5. Pour the milk into glass jars and put on lids. The goal is to have small chunks of yogurt end up in each jar.
  6. Put the glass jars in a stockpot filled with hot tap water and leave the pot on the counter wrapped in a towel to incubate for 10-18 hours. (There are countless ways to incubate yogurt—this one has worked for me and so I continue to use it.)
  7. Keep jars of yogurt in the fridge, and perhaps initiate rhythms of sharing.
  8. To make Greek-style yogurt, simply strain the yogurt using cheesecloth or a coffee filter. To make yogurt cheese, keep straining the yogurt until it becomes similar in consistency to cream cheese. There are also plenty of uses for whey—the clear liquid that drains off—once you are done straining the yogurt.


Photograph by Rebecca Siegel.