Kids Corner


My Adventures in Yogurt




Humans have apparently been managing dairy cattle for 100,000 years. And the evidence for the production and consumption of yoghurt goes back 5,400 years.

Nomadic tribes were the first to be known to carry ‘thickened milk', presumably cultured by wild bacteria. In Sumatra, it was cultured from buffalo milk, in Egypt from water buffalo.

It s used around the world as a snack, an adjunct to a meal, the main staple, dessert or, in Punjab, as a drink - the famous lassi.

It can also be a tonic, an element of religious ceremonies, skin or hair treatment or a pro-biotic.

When I was a young mother, a neighbour, who seemed strangely sophisticated, had a special machine for making yoghurt. She said it was quite simple and deflected my awe with a cavalier waive of her hand. She also had an open marriage and I wondered about that for some time. She was content that her husband also loved another woman and felt, rather indifferently it seemed to me, that they could all co-exist in some way.

However I was much more obsessed with the yoghurt machine.

I never did acquire one. I don't know what it looked like. I imagined some great tray with levels, timers and vents. And a plug, that would easily liberate me from the need for knowledge or experience. Though I insisted on making all our food from scratch -  bread, cereal, cakes - and did not care for loading up my kitchen counters with contraptions, what stood between me and homemade yoghurt was that machine!

Then I met Biji.

After two decades I suddenly became aware that there was a whole civilization that cultured yoghurt in one bowl.


But no, I watched as she slowly heated the milk to a precise temperature, felt it with her hands and knew it was right. Then she ever so gently folded a small amount of her current yoghurt into a clean yoghurt bowl with a small amount of now cooled milk and back into the pan to mix with the greater quantity, then back delicately to the yoghurt dish. She swaddled this - sometimes in a towel, sometimes in a shawl - and walked the dish carefully to a warmer room for any number of hours until it was thick.


I now had the secret, a simple method for making yoghurt without any fancy contraption. I possessed the knowledge.

However, when I tried to replicate this simple process, I found that what I lacked was experience. How hot should the side of
the pan feel? How much starter exactly? How gentle did I need to be with the mixture? If I checked it too often, did it cool and stall? Which room of my house was adequate for the waiting and how long to wait.

I tried 1%, 2%, lactose free and regular. I waited the evening, or overnight. I sometimes forgot I had yoghurt brewing and went to work wasting all my efforts and having to start again. I added sugar thinking lactose free milk needed something for the bacteria to eat? I tried metal containers, glass containers, sheltering the mixture in an insulated icebox and curing it in the top part of my tiffin, resting on warm water in the lower compartment.

All with varying degrees of sloppy success.

Did I walk too fast, did I jostle it too much, too hot, too cold, what was my problem?

Biji laughed at some of my experiments and said, ‘Keep trying, you will figure it out'.

Recently we went to Cleveland and visited a couple of lovely friends for a weekend .

There, Dolly made yoghurt.I followed her every move with eyes agog.

She first micro-waved a large container of milk, let it cool in the microwave until it was warm to her touch and then whisked in her starter mercilessly with an egg beater. The starter, she explained, had its origins in a faraway land: Punjab!

She beat that mixture till it frothed and said she loved the lacy look of the set yoghurt because of it! She thrust the mixture back into the micro-wave space to brew silently.

And hours later, without a doubt ... lo and behold! A rich, thick yoghurt conformed sweetly to her expectations.

After 25 years I no longer desire a yoghurt machine. I am finally initiated into the sisterhood of yoghurt makers. I love Biji but I think my micro-wave and I are destined to be partners in yoghurt from here on.

July 16, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Simran Kaur (San Diego, California, U.S.A.), July 16, 2010, 12:19 PM.

It's true - yogurt is one of the easiest of things to make; yet, everyone has stories of how they have struggled to get it right! Get any two women together - especially in the diaspora - and they will exchange endless stories of their own adventures in yogurt-making! There's something about this elixir of the gods that fascinates ... intrigues ... baffles us ad infinitum! I wonder why.

2: Hakam Singh (Scotland ), July 16, 2010, 12:34 PM.

Simran ji: There's a whole mythology - some of it based on fact and actual life experience through the ages - around yogurt, which is deeply ingrained in the Punjabi mind. It is considered central to keeping healthy. It is also reputed to add to one's good looks - fair colour, rosy cheeks, fine skin, shiny hair, etc. And, it is considered the best of brain-foods! I guess that's why there is so much talk around yogurt in a Sikh and Punjabi household.

3: Billoo Singh (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 16, 2010, 12:38 PM.

I remember every time I had an exam in school, my mother would make me eat a 'kauli' full of yogurt before I left home. I thought it was superstition. I learnt later that it was meant to sharpen your faculties!

4: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 17, 2010, 10:50 AM.

'Kaval nain madhur bain kot sain sang sobh kahat maa jasod jisah dahee bhaat khaai jee' [GGS:1402.120] - "To me, You were lotus-eyed, with sweet speech exalted and embellished with millions of companions. Mother Yashoda invited You as Krishna to eat dahi bhaat (yogurt and rice)". Year ago, I successfully injured my right leg with a 12" long gash that went up to the bone. As a result, I was rushed to the hospital and rolled into the Operation Theater for some stitching. Just before they put me under GA, the young nurse came with a glass and asked me to deposit my teeth in it. I said that you are operating on my leg, what does it have to do with my teeth? She insisted that it was the rule that I took out my teeth. I could still joke with her and said that she would have to remove them herself and helpfully opened my mouth. One look and she almost screamed: "My God, you have real teeth!" Then, of course, I still had time to lecture her on the benefits of eating yogurt and drinking at least a gallon of pure milk daily. At 77, I still have the original set and disappoint my son-in-law who is an Orthodontist, that I hardly visit him despite his checking my teeth for free. Oh! I almost forgot to share another story. It was in 1974. I was the Estate Manager on an estate in Labis Johore and we had an expat Pakistani dentist by the name of Yusoff posted there in the Govt. Clinic. It so happened that I had a terrible tooth-ache and had a sleepless night. Next day I was at his clinic and asked him if he would extract my errant tooth. He took one look and said 'Kal ayee-ai!" - Come tomorrow! I said that I was in terrible pain and what was the difficulty in pulling out that tooth. He said, he will have to x-ray and study before attempting the extraction. In typical Punjabi fashion, he put his hand on his arm to indicate its possible length, and in innocuous expletive said: "This is not a Chinese or a Malay tooth, that I could take out with my finger, you have probably this long root" - as he showed his closed fist and touched his mid forearm. He eventually did struggle and managed to pull out my first wisdom tooth. We invited him and his wife to share some lovely Seera that evening - a recommended lovely soft diet for such a condition.

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