NPR recently ran a story about porridge and how it is making a comeback. You can read or listen to that story here. I was surprised to hear that the dish was making a comeback because for me, it was always a centerpiece of my winter diet.
Oats (Avena sativa) are as old as wheat, barley, rye, and spelt as human cultigens. As agriculture moved out of the Middle East, those to the north noticed that this crop did better than most others in cold, damp regions, especially northern Europe. It has been an important crop for human consumption in Scandinavia and northern parts of Britain and Ireland. In the rest of Europe, this crop was largely used for animal fodder. In fact, when I was living in Germany, my host mother was amused that I asked for her to please pick up some oatmeal for breakfast once winter set in. “Should I go to the feed store?” she asked. I thought it was odd, since Germans love Muesli, which uses oats as its main ingredient, but I digress (see an extended history here).
Growing up, my mother called it “porridge,” and it was invariably made on the stove with raisins, brown sugar, and milk. My father fed me “oatmeal” out of a box with an old Quaker man on the front and fruit-and-cream-flavored packets inside. For many years, this was the only oatmeal I knew.
Oats are a great base for an exciting breakfast (I doubt that sentence has ever been written before, but it is true). Oats have lots of protein (second highest cereal after corn), fiber, vitamins, and energy. They have a mild flavor profile, which is a polite way to say “bland.” But this is a good thing: it is the rice or bread on which exciting foods can be based. I start out by cooking 1 measure of oats in 2 measures of water over medium-high heat on the stove (or 1:30 minutes in the microwave if I must). I add a dash of salt to bring out the flavor a bit. Once the water has boiled (or the first cook is done in the microwave), I add my adjuncts. This is where the fun starts. My basic porridge has a sweetener, some sort of nut, a dried fruit component (usually), spices, and a type of dairy. Here is an incomplete list (which is a redundant phrase in my book):
- White Sugar
- Brown Sugar
- Ground Pumpkin Seeds
- Ground Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
- Chopped Dates
Now I pick and choose from what I have on hand. Obviously I don’t throw all this in to a bowl. One morning I might go for a chai-inspired porridge (honey, hazelnut, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, fennel, pepper, and yogurt). The next I might go for pumpkin pie (brown sugar, ground pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and yogurt). Go nuts! If you’re in a bit of a hurry or find a mix you really like, throw all the adjuncts together in a container at the right proportions (usually just the nuts, spices, and fruit, adding the sweetener and dairy individually), mix, and then just spoon out a tablespoon or two as needed each morning. Sometimes fresh fruit like apples (which are seasonally appropriate for the winter) can be sautéed in a little butter first. Yum!
I’ll leave you with a short video from one of my favorite YouTube channels, the Way Out West Blown-In Blog.
Cover image was “Porridge” by William Hensley via Wikipedia Commons.