Making Yogurt Connects Me To My Ancestors

Making Yogurt Connects Me To My Ancestors

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I have been on a mission for the last 8 weeks.  I am vegan and eat non-dairy plain unsweetened yogurt for health reasons.  I’ve been ordering by the case for over a year.  And then, it went on back order.  I waited and waited but the health food store I ordered it from could not get any information about the delay.  Now it looks like the company won’t be back in production until the Fall.

I did numerous searches online to find a replacement.  Only one other company makes unsweetened plain soy yogurt.  And…they stopped producing yogurt all together.

When life gives you lemons…as the saying goes.  I started to research how to make yogurt.  I found instructions online on how to make dairy free yogurt at home.  I asked a lot of questions and I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t difficult at all. Heck, people have been making it for centuries.  Surely, I could do it.  I think.

Monday I got all my tools together: pot, candy thermometer, oven temperature gauge, spoon, and glass jar.  I rounded up the limited ingredients, soy milk and yogurt culture starter, and I set out to make yogurt.

It is really a low tech process.  You warm the soy milk on the stove, then let it cool to a specific temperature.  Then, you add in the cultures, stirring until dissolved for 2-3 minutes.  Your pour it in a jar, cover it with a towel, and place it in the oven with the light on to incubate the batch.  Sort of like Easy Bake Oven cooking for adults.

As I was stirring in the cultures, I couldn’t help but get this feeling that I was participating in something that has been passed down for generations.  I have no clue if my ancestors made yogurt or if they even knew what yogurt was.  But, I could feel this sense of connectedness.  My ancestors made everything from scratch.  No Costco around the corner to buy yogurt in bulk.  They didn’t have microwaves and their oven might have needed hours to warm up.   As I push my jar of yogurt to the back of the oven and placed the towel over, I could imagine my great grandmother doing the same thing.

It’s not so farfetched to think that my yogurt making adventure and the way my ancestors cooked, baked, and canned foods were similar.  I have seen old photos of Azorean women gathered around the outdoor communal oven which loaves of bread on huge paddles waiting to be pushed into the oven.  I’ve heard stories of women getting up at 3:30 in the morning to start breakfast so it could be ready by 6am when the men went out to work in the sugar plantations.   It wasn’t easy putting together a meal a 125 years ago.

Then, there was my French Grandpa who made the best soup in the world.  It’s something that I always remember about him and something no one has duplicated since.  My Mom told me that he kept a pot under the sink.  All week long he added to this pot, warmed it on the stove, removed it, and put it back in it’s place under the sink.  You’d think someone would have gotten sick with so many hours out in the open without heat.  But, my Grandpa knew his cooking and he knew how to make soup.

That makes me wonder.  Who was the first person who figured out how to make that soup?  Who was the first person who accidentally bred some good bacteria in their milk?  More importantly, who was the first person who tasted it who didn’t get sick and said “This is pretty darn good.  I shall call it yogurt!”?

So many things we eat today either come prepackaged and pre-made.  With our modern appliances, it takes much less time to make a meal or a pot of soup.  It was kind of nice to trust this ancient process and show a little patience while the bacteria did it’s thing to my soy milk in the back of the over under the towel.  I’m sure my ancestors showed similar patience in the kitchen every day.

How did my first batch turn out?   When I removed the towel, I saw that it worked.  The yogurt set and there was a little liquid separation at the top just like it was supposed to be.  I held the jar to my nose and took in a whiff.  It smelled like fresh baked bread.  I could just sit their and take in that scent all day!  If I’d known it was going to smell like that, I might have tried making yogurt sooner!

The next day, I took it out of the fridge.  It could have been thicker, but that was a minor cosmetic issue. It tasted really good, which was the important part.  Not like the pudding like concoctions in the store.  It’s got a mild tart taste instead of an oversweetened taste.

Next week, I’ll be making another batch.  I suspect as I’m waiting the 8 hours for it to finish I might again think of my ancestors.  I might ruminate on the long hours it took them to put together a meal.  I might appreciate a little more our modern conveniences.   But, I might also think that they had some things right.  There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked food straight from the oven.

This is my first jar of yogurt.  I’m very proud of it.

yogurt attempt x




Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website,

One thought on “Making Yogurt Connects Me To My Ancestors

  1. I share your interest in the way our ancestors did things. My father told me a lot about domestic skills and routines during the 1920s. He also described changes in domestic technology during the 20th century, the impact of the Great Depression and World War II, etc. I have started transcribing the taped interviews into a blog called Outback Story.

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