How to Make a Tofu Press

Helen Prescott reveals how to make a tofu press for homemade tofu that's delicious and cheap.

| January/February 1985

What food contains more protein than an omelet, more iron than spinach and as much calcium as cottage cheese — all for as little as 25 cents per homemade pound? You guessed it: tofu. When my family was introduced to this oriental import, it was love at first bite. We were soon feasting on scrambled tofu for breakfast, sipping tofu shakes with lunch, enjoying bean curd burgers for dinner and savoring slices of soy cheesecake for dessert.

However, with the nearest health food store some 30 miles away and our favorite food selling for $1.30 a pound, it wasn't long before our appetites outdistanced our pocketbooks. Necessity demanded that we make our own tofu, so for a few weeks, I diligently mashed, boiled, strained and curdled the soybeans...and usually came up with only a pound of bean curd to show for several hours' work. The results were tasty, though, and rather than becoming discouraged by our small return, we were all the more determined to make the process economically feasible.

The answer to our predicament was a homemade wooden tofu press that can hold as much as 15 or as little as 2 pounds of soy cheese at one time. This efficient device enables me to strain the initial soymilk-and-mash mixture and to press the bean curd while the liquid is still near boiling, thus speeding up the tofu-making operation and sparing me some burned fingers and spilled whey. The press cuts down on the waste of useful by-products, as well: Since the bottom edge of the contraption fits snugly over a large basin, it's an easy matter to save the whey for use in baked goods, soups or pet food. And when the tofu is firm, the front panel of the press lifts out to let the curd be cut and removed easily. What's more, the implement cost us only about $5 in materials and took a mere two hours to construct...and it saves us more than a dollar per pound of tofu each time we use it.

How to Make a Tofu Press

To make a tofu press, you'll need an assortment of pine lumber and plywood (our design requires 5 feet of 1-by-6 pine board for the sides, a 1-foot section of 1-by-12 pine board for the lid and a 12 ½ -by-13 ½ -inch piece of ¼ -inch plywood for the base): 18 to 20 No. 6-by-1 ¼ -inch rustproof wood screws; a drill with 1/8-inch, 9/64-inch and 3/16-inch bits; a circular saw or a handsaw; a chisel; a screwdriver; some sandpaper; and enough vegetable oil to coat the finished product. (Consult the second image in the image gallery for a handy diagram.)

First off, you'll need to decide what you'll be using to catch the soymilk and whey as they strain through the press, because it's best to make that container a permanent part of your tofu operation. The catching vessel should hold at least 5 gallons of liquid and be able to withstand temperatures up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Our press is designed to fit snugly over a stainless steel basin that sits in our kitchen sink. Whatever container you choose — whether it's a plastic tub, large bucket, enameled canning pot or similar vessel — you'll want to design your press so that two of its sides hang several inches over the edge of your catching pot, while the perforated bottom rests almost an inch below the top. (This design prevents the press from sliding off center and splashing out boiling liquid.)

Once you've calculated the size of your press, cut the two sides out of the 1-by-6 pine board (ours measure 16 ½ inches in length). At each end of the side sections, cut out a small rectangle ¾ inch up from the base and 2 inches in from the sides. Directly in from this indentation, cut a ¾ -inch-wide vertical slice ¼ inch into the panel, as shown in the drawing. (Because commercial lumber is measured before it runs through a planer, your 1-by-6 board will actually be ¾ -by-5 3/8 inches, which is why the groove is ¾ inch wide.)

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