Recently, we spent a day enjoying the easy hospitality of Yasoda Mensah in her warm, colorful home situated in the lush countryside of central Pennsylvania’s Juniata Valley. Mensah is the owner of Trifolia Natural Products & Botanicals and the director of Three Leaf Farmden, the modest homestead where her house sits.
If you’ve been to the Boalsburg Farmers’ Market on Tuesdays, perhaps you’ve seen Ms. Mensah selling her wild crafted plant tinctures, natural body care products and gourmet food items. It was here that we first encountered Yasoda and her thoughtfully crafted products and were introduced to something that we could not resist: homemade tofu.
Out of all of Trifolia’s lovely offerings, it was the Artisan Tofu that made us swoon the most. Now, Brian has neither really loved nor disliked tofu. I, on the other hand, have avoided tofu in the past, my reasons being a mix of overexposure to improperly prepared tofu dishes, low quality store-bought product and likely misinformation about the evils of soy.
I reluctantly sought out recipes I could prepare with this new addition to our mealtime repertoire and, one delectable stir fry and delicious tofu scramble later, I was a convert. Not only was it easy to prepare, but it was the best tofu either of us had ever had.
On the road, protein in the form of meat will be hard to come by, can be expensive, and difficult to store for long periods (RV freezers are waayyy tiny).
Tofu is a great alternative and a versatile ingredient for many dishes. You can make enough of it in one shot to last a week or two and it can be stored in small containers in the fridge.
Plus, dry soybeans are relatively cheap to purchase and will keep very well for long periods.
We were sold.
Ms. Mensah was kind enough to volunteer her time and teach us the traditional way of making tofu. We were invited into her home for an afternoon of lunch and curd making.
While we eagerly awaited a vegan sushi meal gorgeously prepared by Yasoda’s charming daughter, Kalakanthi, we had a chance to hear a little about Yasoda’s background, her mission and making amazing tofu.
MJ: What is tofu made of?
YM: Soybeans, water and a coagulant.
MJ: Can you explain how to make tofu traditionally?
YM: Tofu is made in 4 processes:
- Washing & soaking dried soy beans
- Grinding the beans with water and straining to make soy milk
- Boiling soy milk and adding coagulant to separate curds and whey
- Pressing curds into mold and curing
MJ: Do you have any recommendations on where to buy soybeans for tofu making?
YM: Try to find organic, NON-GMO beans grown for making soy milk. I’ve tried soy beans from a lot of different sources and would highly recommend Laura Soybeans, available online.
MJ: In your experience, how long do soybeans need to soak?
YM: Soak the beans for 24 hours. If soaked longer they will start to ferment, if soaked for less time, the beans will not be soft enough to grind properly, and thus milk quantity will be reduced.
MJ: There are several coagulants for tofu that people use, but the two most popular are Nigari & Gypsum. What is the difference between the two?
YM: What coagulant you use determines the texture and color of the tofu. Nigari is the traditional coagulant and is better for firm tofu, it also makes tofu that is a little easier to digest while gypsum makes a tofu with a more delicate flavor and is better for soft tofu, especially silken tofu which is only made with gypsum.
MJ: What do you feel is the most important part of the tofu making process?
YM: Creating good curds during the coagulating stage. Letting the coagulated soy milk sit too long will produce hard curds which are difficult to form producing a granular looking tofu, but also if the curds sit in the whey for too long they will start to break down producing too soft a tofu.
When adding the nigari, it should be added in 3 stages, one third at a time resting briefly between additions. However, when using gypsum, it should be added in all at once.
MJ: How much water should we use when grinding the beans to make soy milk?
YM: The quantity of water is important because you do not want the milk to be too thick, as it will scorch on the bottom of the pan during the boiling stage. Since it is the quantity of beans that determines how much tofu you get adding more water than necessary just gives you more whey to remove, which is more work.
The volume of water to add depends on what type of beans you are using. For example with Laura Soybeans 1 lb of beans will make 1.8 gallons of soy milk. Therefore, add enough water during the grinding/straining process to reach that volume. Today we will be adding 5 gallons of water to our 3 lbs of beans.
MJ: Why do we have to boil soy milk?
YM: Boiling the milk for 15 minutes helps to make the tofu more easily digestible. Also you can take the opportunity while the milk is boiling to skim the foam off and remove impurities.
MJ:Can you recommend how long to press tofu? How much weight should you use when pressing the tofu? We’ve seen time suggestions from 1hr to 4hrs, with weight ranging from a can of soup up to 10 lbs.
YM: You can put as much weight as you want, however the firmer you want your tofu the heavier the weight should be. If you use a lighter weight, it will have to press longer. I can’t see how a can could press out enough whey to make firm tofu, no matter how long it sits. Today we’ll be using 20 lb weights for about 15-20 minutes.
MJ: Once it is pressed and cured, what are your recommendations on how to store tofu?
YM: Put it in a container with fresh cold water to store in the fridge, change the water every day to extend the life of the tofu for up to a month. Tofu releases an enzyme that starts to break it down. By changing the water each day, the enzymes never build up in the water enough to start the process.
MJ: Are there any books that you could recommend if we wanted to learn more about tofu?
YM: My favorites are:
Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen
The Book of Tofu & Miso by William Shurtleff, Akiko Aoyagi
These were the burning questions we had for her after learning the basic steps. We will post a step-by-step tutorial on making tofu at home once we adapt it for small space living, so stay tuned for that.
Born in England and of Nigerian descent, Yasoda earned a Bachelor’s degree in microbiology and a Master’s in therapeutic herbalism.
She raised her young family in Washington, D.C. for five years before moving to Pennsylvania and taught her children the value of making a lot of their own food from scratch and to avoid consuming too many processed foods.
It was in D.C. that Yasoda first attempted to make tofu at home.
Funny enough, the fear and panic of Y2K caused her to wonder where she would get her tofu after the world came crashing down. So she took action and purchased soybeans in bulk, enough to last a while, and taught herself the art of tofu making.
Even though she enjoyed city life, she longed for a space where community, spirituality and a sustainable lifestyle coexisted.
A place to raise her children without fear and anxiety.
Her search led her to Gita Nagari Eco Farm & Sanctuary. Founded in 1974 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, otherwise known as the “founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna movement”, Gita Nagari is a 350 acre sanctuary for some roughly 80 protected dairy cows in Port Royal, Pennsylvania.
Gita Nagari is home to a spiritual community devoted to simple, sustainable living and compassionate farming practices. And, according to the website, the only certified slaughter-free dairy in the US.
Yasoda became deeply involved with the Gita Nagari community and eventually became a part-time cook and consultant for the many retreats and festivals they hold there. Today, she conducts workshops and teaches classes for their retreats as well as hosting herb walks for the youth.
After all, that is what this blog is all about – the people who inspire us, the connection we want to make with them and the community we want to create.
More about Three Leaf Farmden & Trifolia Natural Products:
As the director of Three Leaf Farmden, Yasoda hosts workshops on subjects ranging from Bhakti yoga and meditation to plant-based meal preparation and offers something called Weed Wisdom Walks where participants learn to identify local herbs, plants and trees and discover their healing properties.
Trifolia Natural Products offers a variety of handcrafted items including soaps, salt scrubs and body lotions, and gourmet foods like artisan tofu, chutneys, sauces and even popcorn. Ingredients are sourced locally, sometimes even foraged and then wild crafted, so are often small batch and change according to the season.
Mensah has even begun offering membership to a CSB, or community supported botanicals, where members pay an annual fee and receive a monthly box containing shelf stable foods, herbal supplements, body and home care products, for more on Trifolia visit the website: www.trifolianaturalproducts.com.