Sunday, 26 March 2017

Homemade Yoghurt

As part of becoming more self-reliant, we've been enjoying making some of the food and other products we use at home. Foods like honey, preserves such as olives, jam, sauces and fruit, and products such as soap, dishcloths, laundry detergent and home cleaners.

With an interest in fermented foods from a health perspective, I had been wanting to make our own yoghurt for some time. Well I finally got around to it, and now that I've made several batches, I don't know why I put it off for so long!  

Breakfast - homemade yoghurt and homemade muesli

The basic process involves adding yoghurt culture to milk at 37C, whereby the culture consumes the lactose (or any other sugar) in the milk.  After a minimum of 8 hours at this temperature the milk becomes yoghurt.  

There are all sorts of nifty ways to keep yoghurt warm while it ferments.  Some of these include:
  • put it on top of hot water heaters (unfortunately our HWS is located outside in the open air so the option is not really suitable for us) 
  • on top of coffee machines (we don't have one) 
  • in a warm oven (we didn't want to wait for the oven to have been used in order to make our yoghurt) 
  • wrapped in blankets 
  • in an esky (cooler) with hot water.  
After considering our options I took the easy way out and bought an EasiYo yoghurt thermos ($23.50 from BigW) to incubate the yogurt in.  I'd heard that this system worked well so I thought I'd give it a try.  It consists of a thermos and a jar that sits inside the thermos to hold the yoghurt. Yeah, it's plastic, but it works well and makes the process simple ........... which means I'm far more likely to make yoghurt than if I had to fuss around with blankets. But that's just me.

EasiYo thermos

Boiling water is poured into the hole to fill the space below the red shelf

For my first batch I used some live yoghurt culture bought from Green Living Australia.  I bought the Tangy Yoghurt Culture ($16.95) and the Non-Dairy Yoghurt culture ($17.95). Each sachet contains enough culture for 100 litres of yoghurt (you only use a very, very tiny amount to make 1 litre) and you can make this stretch even further by using some of the previous batch of yoghurt as the starter for the next. The culture will keep for 2-5 years in the freezer. I liked the idea of purchasing the culture as it means I don't always have to have a previous batch on hand if I decide I want to make yoghurt.

We have a thermomix so that is perfect for mixing and heating.  However you could easily do it on the stove using a thermometer.  

The method I followed was from the Thermomix Everyday Cookbook but I have played around with quantities and use slightly less than the recipe in the book:

Ingredients: (makes 1kg yoghurt)

  • 800g full cream organic milk
  • 50g milk powder (the addition of milk powder makes a thicker yoghurt - I used 20g or none)
  • 3 tablespoons yoghurt containing live culture (I used the Tangy culture for my first batch and 2 dessert spoons of homemade yoghurt for subsequent batches)
  1. Combine milk & powdered milk in Thermomix bowl for 10 seconds, speed 7.
  2. Cook for 30 minutes at 90 degrees, speed 1. (This kills any bacteria in the milk, preparing it for the addition of the live yoghurt culture)
  3. Cool mix to 37 degrees. The mix must cool to this temperature before adding your starter or you will kill the live culture. It may take up to 60 minutes but you can speed this up by putting the bowl in the fridge.
  4. Once at 37 degrees add your starter (the yoghurt or the purchased live culture), mix to combine for 4 seconds, speed 4.
  5. Then heat for 10 minutes, 37 degrees, speed 1.
It's very important that the utensils you use to make your yoghurt are clean and sterilised. While the yoghurt is cooling to 37C I wash the yoghurt jar and lid in hot soapy water and then rinse them. Then while the yoghurt mix is heating in the final step I fill the clean yoghurt jar with boiling water and let it sit until the yoghurt is ready to add. I also pour boiling water over the underside of the clean lid, let it sit for a little while then put the lid, underside down on a clean tea towel. 

Once step 5 is complete, pour boiling water into the EasiYo thermos up to the correct level. As shown in the photo above, the yogurt jar sits on a shelf above the level of the boiling water in the EasiYo thermos. (You don't want the container holding the yoghurt to come in contact with the boiling water).  Empty out the boiling water sitting in the yoghurt jar and pour in the yoghurt mixture.  Screw the lid on and put the jar inside the thermos. Leave the thermos somewhere where it won't be disturbed for at least 8 hours, and longer for a thicker yoghurt. Once done, you can  transfer the yoghurt into another jar to free up the yoghurt jar for making another batch.

Two batches of yoghurt in the fridge - some from the batch on the left was used to make the batch on the right

As you can see, yoghurt made in this way is super easy. The organic full cream milk we used was purchased on special (50% reduction) so that made the yoghurt even cheaper to make.  I've yet to try making the non-dairy yoghurt but as I only drink soy milk I'll have the ingredients on hand. 

The Green Living Australia website has recipes for dairy, soy, almond and coconut yoghurts so there are plenty of yoghurt making options available.  Making your own yoghurt is not only easy, it will save you money while at the same time, give you control over what goes into the yoghurt you eat. I won't have to make many batches before I've covered the cost of buying the cultures and the thermos.  What's not to like about that?

Saturday, 18 March 2017

An unexpected harvest

Last month we set up a hive on our country block. At the time we weren't sure of the forage supply so we gave the bees some sugar syrup, just in case. Five days after installing the hive I had a quick peek under the lid. It didn't look like the bees had been feeding on the sugar. Two and a half weeks after installing the hive I did a more thorough inspection. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Once I'd opened the hive I could see that the bees were not feeding on the syrup.  So we took that away. Looking into the hive it seemed clear that they were finding some sort of nectar flow - the hive was full of honey.  In fact there was very little room left for the queen to lay. Yikes!

Ideal size box containing the sugar syrup

Nobody was interested!

I had spare boxes on hand but no frames (another beekeeping lesson learnt - when tending more remote hives be prepared for abundance!).  The hive was in danger of becoming honey bound and I didn't want the hive to swarm if they ran out of room.  Fortunately we did have a supply of clean 2 litre icecream containers in the shed. 

Here's what we did to make some room in the hive:
  • Removed a full frame of honey and took this back to the shed.
  • Found 4 clean 2 litre icecream containers with lids
  • Cut the comb out of the frame and put this into the icecream containers. I cut a quarter of the comb out of the frame at a time, which fitted nicely into a 2 litre icecream container.  
  • Left an inch of comb along the top of the frame to act as a guide for the bees to build on.
  • Put the frame back in the hive.

We hoped the bees would get to work building comb on this empty frame and give the queen some more room to lay.  We planned to come back in a few days with frames to add a 2nd box to the hive.

So what happened?

Well, we came back 4 days later to find that the bees had almost completely filled the frame with fresh comb.  Go girls!  

To give the bees plenty of room we added a second box with fresh frames. We don't wire our frames - instead we use a thin strip of wax in the top of the frame as a guide and let the bees build their own comb. Yes, they consume honey in order to make the comb but we figure it's better to let them build the comb that they want rather than use frames with full foundation.

To make room in the brood box we moved 2 frames of honey up into the second box and put 2 fresh frames with wax starter strips into the brood box.  Based on how quickly the bees had filled out the frame we'd put in a few days prior, it seems likely that they should be able to build out the 2 empty frames.  The presence of the honey in the 2nd box will hopefully draw the bees up there too.  Just how much comb they build in the top box doesn't really matter - we just wanted to make sure there was room in the brood box for the queen to lay. 

Here's how we processed the comb once we got it home:

One of our 4 containers of comb

Using a potato masher to mash the comb

Fully mashed comb on right

Mashed comb is spooned into the double strainer sitting over the honey bucket

Honey is left to drain from mashed comb into honey bucket. Because the lid of the honey bucket doesn't clip on when the strainer is in place we use a plastic bag secured by a rubber band to cover the lot.


Here's the harvest from our single frame of honey. Well over 2 kg of honey:

Honey harvest from single frame - large jars on left each hold 500 gms of honey

We hadn't planned to harvest from this hive this season, thinking that it might struggle to amass stores. Our suburban hive is certainly not making much honey. Just goes to show that as a beekeeper you need to be prepared for multiple outcomes, especially when you are tending hives in more remote areas.   Now that the country hive has plenty of room we can leave it to do its thing and check back on it in a few weeks.

If you keep bees, how are your hives going?

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Spoon carving with the Green Woodsmith

Some time back we did a day-long spoon-carving workshop in Kyneton.  Unfortunately we never managed to quite finish those spoons. Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is quite hard even when green. We wrapped the partly-carved spoons in foodwrap and put them in the freezer but the plastic has ripped. The spoons have now dried out and are even harder to carve.

Not being too familiar using an axe, I found my first foray into spoon carving to be rather slow going and my arm got a bit tired from using the axe.  Which kinda explains why I didn't finish my spoon in the workshop.  I still had a hankering for more instruction on the subject so as a Christmas gift, Mr PragSust kindly enrolled me in a spoon carving course in January with Paul, the Green Woodsmith

The Green Woodsmith spoon carving courses are run from Paul's property in Buninyong, 15 km from Ballarat. He has a lovely outdoor setting for the course and despite the hot weather, it was a very pleasant spot to work. The inquistive alpacas were a lovely bonus - I mean where else can you get the chance to get a kiss on the head from a gorgeous alpaca!!

The shaded outdoor classroom

The axes Paul uses in his class are a variety of specific carving axes. They were lightweight which made them fairly easy to use, even for those of us who aren't too familiar with using axes.  Paul encouraged us to try out the different axes to find the one we liked best.  

We used willow for our spoons and this soft wood proved easier to carve for a newbie than harder woods such as blackwood.  Paul gave us some instruction on the types of axes and how to use them safely, and the steps involved in taking our willow from a lump of wood into a spoon and then we were into it!

Directions showing which way to make the axe cuts

We had a break for a relaxed lunch in the shade. My friend and I had brought along food to share and we also got to taste some of Paul's wife Jenny's preserved caperberries - yum.

Then it was back into it, with instruction on safely using the carving knives to further shape our spoon - the straight knife for shaping the spoon and the hook knife used to carve the bowl.  

Marking out some cutting lines, with friendly alpaca in the background

Getting some instruction from Paul

The next step in shaping the spoon- using the straight knife

Shaping the bowl with the hook knife

Carving the bowl

I didn't quite finish my spoon (I'm definitely a bit of a slow coach!) but by the end of the afternoon I did have something recognisably spoon-like 😌  I have stored it in a ziplock bag in my freezer and plan to see if I can find the time to finish it sometime soon. Paul said it should be okay stored in this way for around 6 months so I have a bit of time up my sleeve.

If you're interested in having a go at making a spoon using only an axe and some knives, I heartily recommend doing a spoon carving course with Paul the Green Woodsmith. Check out his website for details of upcoming course dates.