My husband loves to make things from scratch, living-off-the-grid style. In the past we’ve made root beer, cheese, bread, mustard and other condiments (granted, this is because I was penning my book, Homemade Condiments), and beer. My husband even makes his own seltzer water with a SodaStream soda maker.
For him, it’s the thrill of achievement, of creating something that normally you’d buy packaged from the supermarket. Plus, the science geek in him loves seeing the transformation of the ingredients into something totally different.
But for me, our little foodie science projects have become yet another way for us to minimize our impact on the environment. Less packaging, fewer additives and artificial ingredients, and less energy expended on transportation all mean that these fun projects could reduce your carbon footprint. Instead of heading to the store, try making these six foods from scratch.
Yogurt: Make your own plain yogurt, or stir honey, jam, or fresh fruit into it to make a flavored version that’s far lower in sugar than commercial varieties. You can find a good yogurt maker for under $50, but really, you don’t even need a specialized appliance. Yogurt-making involves heating milk to a certain temperature, then cooling it, inoculating it with a little bit of yogurt, and then incubating the yogurt at a low heat for 4 to 6 hours, or until it’s properly thickened. You can find a yogurt maker with individual glass jars, so you have the convenience of an individual serving in a reusable container. It’s more earth-friendly than the disposable plastic container of the supermarket versions (yogurt containers are usually made of #5 plastic, which isn’t always accepted by curbside recycling programs).
Butter: I always feel a bit like Laura Ingalls Wilder when I make my own butter… but then again, Laura didn’t have a stand mixer. You can also make butter in an old mason jar or a large sauce jar. All you need is heavy cream and a bit of salt to flavor.
Granola: Making granola from scratch is simply a matter of tossing together a few ingredients and baking them at a low temperature. You can find healthy granola recipes that have less fat and sugar than the store-bought varieties. Most of the ingredients, such as oats, nuts, and dried fruit, can be bought in bulk, which helps minimize packaging waste.
Cheese: The first time you turn milk into mozzarella, ricotta, or another kind of cheese, it’s like magic! You can buy a book or find instructions online; the process is not complicated. Seek out a local milk supplier (try your farmers market) and find an online source for some of the special ingredients you’ll need, such as cheese salt, citric acid, and rennet.
Bread: We recently inherited a sourdough starter and have started a tradition of baking a couple of loaves of bread every Sunday. I particularly like that the bread we make has none of the preservatives and additives that are in just about any loaf of supermarket bread, and that we can keep our loaves in a reusable bread container, which is so much better than the double layers of plastic that sheathe the store-bought versions. King Arthur Flour is a great online resource for bread recipes and tutorials, as well as for specialty flours and other ingredients.
Ice Cream: There’s nothing quite like homemade ice cream. While the process is a bit involved and time-consuming, it’s not difficult to make, and coming up with different flavors and inclusions is lots of fun. You can get an electric ice cream maker with a freezer bowl, a model that has a built-in refrigerator compressor, or an old-fashioned hand-crank unit (talk about feeling like Laura Ingalls Wilder!). And out of all the from-scratch foods on this list, ice cream might be the one that will give you the greatest environmental benefit, when you think about how ice cream is transported in energy-guzzling freezer trucks and stored in lit freezer cases at retail.
Once you start experimenting with making certain foods from scratch, chances are it’ll become a fun challenge to find more and more things that you can make at home, rather than driving to the store.