Monday, October 8, 2007

Pleasant Peasant Fare: Oatmeal

This may not sound like the most exciting subject, but I've given a lot of thought lately to the simplicity of mealtime enjoyed by a majority worldwide, or in past history. My grandparents were Depression era folks, the two sets a contrast to the other. My paternal grandparents had a more plentiful larder due to the nature of Granddaddy's profession, and my maternal grandparents were more limited in their means and so would "stretch" foods and utilize what was less expensive and readily available. Both had access to seasonal gardens, and would supplement their meals, in season, with fresh and cooked produce.

At my maternal grandparents' table, we were satisfied with simpler an age when processed foods were only just beginning to storm the supermarkets. Grandma was used to cooking everything herself, and there weren't many available places to "eat out" in their small town..."eating out" was more of a novelty, and the thrill was more in the change of surroundings rather than in an appreciable difference of foods.

I admire the thriftiness of my grandparents, though to them it was not as much a choice as it was a necessity.

In my maternal grandma's kitchen, I only remember how they cooked in their older years, after they'd retired from the North and moved down South to retire on 40 acres in the country. it was not a glamorous retirement...they bought cheap land with a tiny and run-down existing house and rusty tractor. It was what they could afford, and retirement didn't mean Working Less, but rather meant working at what they preferred...gardening, quiet in the country, and my grandfather's woodworking. Because of their ages, they chose not to raise animals...they had done that in their younger years before the Depression took them to Chicago. They'd simplified things to what worked the best for them at the time, and my memories of them in this country setting were the only ones I have of them.

They were early risers, always up with the sun, or sometimes before. Weather permitting, they'd have their breakfasts together on the back porch...not a big Victorian wrap around porch with porch swing and clapboard siding, but a tiny concrete slab back porch under the overhanging roof nestled next to an amazing huge oak tree. Along the porch were folded aluminum and plastic mesh lawn chairs, and they'd unfold a couple and sit there, quietly talking, while enjoying their breakfasts.

Grandma always made fact, I don't remember Grandpa ever making any sort of meal. It was always a really reallly simple breakfast, too...she would toast two pieces of storebought whole wheat bread (whatever was on sale), and separately over the stove would crack two eggs into a skillet, lightly salt and pepper them, and leave them to cook "sunny side up" till the whites were firm but the yolks were not completely set...the middles were still partially runny. Since my family ate mostly scrambled eggs, the thought of anyone eating runny-yolked eggs seemed really digusting at the time. When Grandma's two eggs were cooked, she would place each of them onto one of the pieces of whole wheat toast, served separately on a small plate, and take them outside for breakfast with Grandpa... one for her and one for him.

And accompanied by truly BAD instant coffee, likely decaf Sanka. I have no nostalgia for that coffee other than watching my grandparents drink it :)

When my sister and I would come to visit, Grandma always fixed us something a little different, but of course quick and inexpensive. It usually took the form of oatmeal, though sometimes we'd get a treat of Cream of Wheat. Whatever type of oatmeal it was, it was from the Quaker Oats cardboard cylindrical container. After salting the boiling cooking water, she cooked it for about 15 minutes and served it up hot at the kitchen table, with butter and with the sugarbowl nearby. We'd dilute it with a few splashes of milk, and eat it accompanied with a tall glass of milk, IF the milk were store bought. If the milk were not storebought, it meant that the only milk available was the kind Grandma had mixed up from the box of dried milk flakes and kept in the fridge in a closed Mason jar...watery and tasteless, and, to our taste buds, simply awful! Since she and Grandpa seldom ever drank milk, she probably used it mostly for cooking, because dried milk powder was easy to store and was very inexpensive.

In simplifying our lives, we've begun simplifying our grocery list, and are trying to simplify our spoiled American appetites a bit in the process. I'll be mentioning a few of the things that are reappearing, or appearing at our table for the first time, as we continue this journey.

One of the first comebacks has been Oatmeal. A porridge grain for a great many years worldwide, a hot bowl of oatmeal definately is filling and warming, and making it from scratch is hardly more time consuming than making its spinoff cousin, the "Instant Oatmeal packet." Since we're staying away both from microwave cooking and from processed foods, I just boil a bit of water, add a bit of salt, and then boil the oatmeal. Any sort of sweetner works well...I alternate between a splash of maple syrup, a sprinkling of brown sugar, etc. One of our favorites is the addition of dried fruit, or fresh, and even nuts. When added to the boiling water before adding the oatmeal to the cooking pot, they plump up nicely. Today's oatmeal featured the addition of dried cranberries and a few almonds. A splash of whole milk or cream, and a small pat of butter planted in the middle of each bowl of oatmeal rounds the whole thing out.

We don't have oatmeal every morning for breakfast. But we do have it quite often, at least several times a week. It's satisfying enough to keep us going often well past lunchtime or longer without any thoughts of hunger or cravings. It also is a great fiber for the digestive system, and has other health benefits. Meaning eating oatmeal with regularity results in eating oatmeal with Regularity...if you get my drift, ha!

It is very inexpensive, and I'm guessing costs only pennies for a serving.

So welcome the return of porridge to our table...pleasant "peasant" fare! And some great memories of sitting in the wintertime in my Grandma's warm kitchen, with the windows all fogged over.

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Anonymous said...

You're completely right. A bowl of oatmeal is a powerhouse meal. Doesn't look like much really, but it really is filling!! :)

Robbyn said...

Yes, isn't it funny how we return to the old standbys that we used to think were pretty plain Jane at the time? :)