I’ve been meaning to write an update to “Lactobacillus love: Is it wrong?” Making yogurt in the slow cooker was pretty easy in the summer, but autumn brought several fails in a row – and I never could get the process right while up in Alaska last summer. So I went online to research what I might be doing wrong.
Turns out I should have been making sure the milk was heated to 180 degrees and then cooled to between 105 and 110 degrees, and also making sure of a guaranteed, long-lasting source of warmth. The latter isn’t easy in a cooler or downright cold season.
One writer suggested heating the oven to 100 degrees, then shutting it off (but leaving the oven light on), then putting the covered bowl of milk and starter in to “cook.” Despite the current cold snap in Anchorage, this worked great.
That is, until I set my friend’s oven on fire.
While making the first couple of batches I checked on them about five hours into the process. The oven felt cool-ish to me, even with the light bulb burning, so I turned it to “warm” for about two minutes. The result was a pretty much perfect batch of yogurt.
Yesterday, though, I learned that I should never multi-task while operating a major appliance.
A hot time in the cold town
After five hours I’d removed the towel and plate from the bowl to check the product. Since it still seemed a bit soupy, I covered the bowl back up and turned the oven to “warm” briefly. To make sure I wouldn’t forget to turn it back off, I set the timer for two minutes.
But I’d been talking to my friend while checking the yogurt, and didn’t replace the towel over the bowl properly. About 30 seconds later I noticed smoke wafting out of the stove’s rear vents. Jerking open the oven door, I saw flames licking along a part of the towel that dangled over the heating element.
“Linda, I seem to have started a fire,” I said. “Water?”
My friend is the calmest person in the world. She pulled a pitcher out from under the sink, filled it halfway and dashed it on the flames. While she did that, I filled a second container. The smoke alarm began shrieking. We threw more water. The timer started beeping contrapuntally.
Finally the fire was doused. I shut off the timer and Linda opened the back door wide, letting in subzero night air that was infinitely preferable to the acrid smell of burning terrycloth.
The stove dripped black water into the drawer underneath and also onto the floor. I tore off a piece of unburnt towel to sop up the mess from the oven floor. Linda remarked that it had needed cleaning anyway. (It did look pretty good when I finished.)
After half an hour or so she shut the back door. The stench remained, so she lit a scented candle – fighting fire with fire, so to speak.
Fortunately, the yogurt was just fine.
Conflagrations we have known
I felt like a real horse’s patoot. But bless her heart, she never said a word of reproach as I mopped and apologized, emptied and rinsed the container and apologized, wrung out what was left of the towel and apologized.
This was only her second oven fire, she told me. The first was set by a former boyfriend who was cooking dinner for her. Fortunately he was a part-time firefighter. True story.
We recalled a few other conflagrations. One was at a potluck at my former home, when a guest set a waxed-paper-covered dish too close to a votive candle. Linda was the hero that time, too, putting out the flames while the rest of us were mulling over potential solutions.
Then there was the annual holiday party of the Alaska chapter of Sisters in Crime, which set the host’s living room table on fire two years in a row. After that, we stopped putting candles on the gift table.
(Fun fact: The motto of the local chapter was, “Sisters in Crime Alaska: Where the trail is always cold.” I’m rather proud to say that I was the one who thought it up.)
Lactobacillus love: Worth the risk
As I said, the yogurt turned out great. Not even a whiff of the Cajun about it: it’s creamy and mild-tasting, and a terrific boost to the bones and the gut flora.
I never cared much for yogurt until I started making my own, but this stuff is so good I can’t stop eating it. A little homemade jam, applesauce or frozen Seattle blackberries and you’ve got a dish that’s as tasty as ice cream but much healthier.
In the future I think I’ll skip the toweling and rely on the warmth plus the pottery bowl to keep the lacto cooking. I’ll also remove the bowl before reheating the oven.
If you don’t have a slow cooker and your house is too drafty to keep lactobacillus cozy in the winter, even with a heating pad underneath, consider the oven method. You might want to skip the towels, too.
And if you don’t? At least you’ll have something to eat while you watch the fire trucks.