Spiced Apple Porridge:

.. and a few more of the many ways to enjoy the virtues of Boiled Whole Grain:
(c) 2013, Davd

Breakfast, i’ve been told, should be the best and heartiest meal of the day. Supper should seek wisdom in the French souper from which it apparently derives, and be a small, light meal by comparison. The mid-day meal, whether you call it lunch or dinner, should be substantial if you are a farmer or other hard manual worker, and intermediate if you work in an office (and don’t bicycle a long distance to work and back, do a run and a workout every day—you get the idea.)

I wish i had a simple multiple-choice response sidebar where you who are reading this, could let me know how well your usual meal sizes and contents, agree with that dietary advice. Mine match only moderately well, and often that’s because it’s the evening when i have time to cook something really good. Where i match the pattern best is at breakfast—i do, normally, eat a good substantial breakfast of meat and grain and fruit. These good hearty breakfasts are rather easy to learn to cook—so, here goes.

A good substantial breakfast can consist of fried meat (pork chops are usually the most economical in terms of protein per dollar spent, sometimes ham is, and if you have access to low-cost trout or salmon, by all means eat it for many, even most of your breakfasts. Trout and salmon go better with rye porridge, maybe cornmeal “mush”, rather than oatmeal, but oatmeal will be good too.)

For this week, i’ll guesstimate that many more of you can fry a pork chop or a slice of ham (or bacon—if you dare risk the high fat content) than have learned to make porridge “from scratch.” It’s only a guess, and soon i’ll post a simple “recap” on cooking meat in a frying pan. It will feature good vegetable oil, of which only a thin layer is needed, and the simple art of browning [aka searing] the meat surface. For those of you who have good cooking experience, those points should be enough for the meat part.

The rule to follow unless you have reason to know better, in cooking grain, is Two-to-One [2:1]: Two measures of water to one of grain. This rule works well with oat and rye flakes, with rice and barley cooked by themselves, (but not with that old brand name hot cereal called “Cream of Wheat” nor with Steel Cut Oats.) I’ve used it successfully with a mixture of wheat flakes and “ground toasted corn”, which is good with beef and also with pork smoked or unsmoked.

The commonest porridge in Canada, the UK, and the US, though, is “oatmeal”: Oat flakes cooked for a few minutes in gently boiling water. (There are other definitions in Scotland, i’ve heard half-seriously; so if you’re a Scot or share a kitchen with one, you might want to have a few minutes talk about that. For most of us, oatmeal is made from oat flakes boiled in twice their volume of water.) Rollling the oats into flakes makes them cook faster without making them cook up worse, so that’s how most oats are sold for human consumption. (Horses, as far as i know, get them pretty well as they came out of the thresher. Since horses can’ t read and can’t cook, we’ll proceed with the human version.)

OK, there is an order of procedure to making oatmeal; it’s easy to learn, follow, and remember; and it does matter. First, measure the oat flakes: I use a fairly large mug, always the same mug, because the amount of oatmeal it produces makes three good servings. Find a measuring technique that produces the amount you (and whoever has breakfast with you) can eat in one or two sittings (maybe three sittings if you eat alone.) Then set that amount of oat flakes aside to wait for the water to boil. (I have an odd plastic container i use for the oat flakes to wait in; you could use a clean tin can, an empty margarine container, one of the bowls you’ll eat the porridge from when it’s done… whatever fits your household.)

Second, measure the water—two fillings of that same container you used to measure the oats—into a pot [it’s OK to call it a pan, but it should have a lid, and don’t use a frying pan] where you’ll cook the porridge. (If you measure the water first, the container will be wet and the oat flakes will stick to it… the order does matter.) Then put the water on the stove (and turn on the power). You’ll want high heat to get the water to boil quickly, unless for some reason it takes a long time to get the apple and spices into the pot.

The apple can be any variety you like to eat. My favourites are Brunswick, Forgeron, Honeycrisp, Paulared, Spy—and Fuji, Gala, King, which won’t grow here. Cortland, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonagold, and any good cider apple, are also to my liking. For me, McIntosh and Yellow Transparent are too light in flavour—i also avoid light beer when robust is available; and much prefer Merlot and Pinot Noir to claret—but de gustibus, non disputandum est.* Use whatever kinds of apple you like to eat.

How much apple? This is a technique, not a precise recipe, and again, “tastes” may vary. I’d use 1/10 to 1/4 the amount of oat flakes—and remember, both the cut-up apple and the oat flakes are loose—there’s a lot of air space in that measure. Because i’m using them boiled, i’m willing to put apples that are bruised, or bird-pecked, even the good looking parts of wormy apples, into the pot. Often i use the smallest, most damaged apples i bother to bring in the house. (Since only two of my trees produced more than ten apples this year, and together they bore less than i will eat over winter, i brought in apples half the size of a tennis ball, if they looked sound—this year. When the harvest is big enough that i can be “choosier”, i’d like to have chickens to feed the small and damaged ones to.)

Cut the apples up “fine”—into pieces from the size of a split pea to the size of a white (“Great Northern”, or “Navy”—not Lima) bean. A little larger won’t hurt; but they should cook fast once the water boils, and they should distribute well through the porridge rather than there being several fairly big chunks in one spoonful and no apple in some others. Get them into the pot before the water boils, preferably; and let them have a minute or two of boiling before the oat flakes go in. If you put them in when the water is boiling, you should wait for it to come back to the boil, and then give the apples a minute or two at boiling—more fuss and bother, which is why i put them in before the water boils.

Right after adding the apples, add a little ground cinnamon and a tiny amount of ground cloves. My big mug holds over 12 ounces—just over ,4 litres. I use an amount of cinnamon that equals the size of one of those small white beans—maybe up to the size of a dry chili bean before i soak it for cooking. My ground cloves are in a shaker-top container, and i give one or two quite small taps or shakes—with the container tilted just below the horizontal, not upside down. Cloves are expensive, and their flavour is very strong, so go easy on cloves.

Once the water, the apples, cinnamon and clove reach the boil, ease back the power if you’re using an electric or gas stove. When the apples, cinnamon and clove have boiled for a minute or two, add the oat flakes, gradually, stirring while they go in. (A “soupspoon” or “tablespoon” size spoon is most appropriate; a larger one or a teaspoon can be made to do the job.)

The cold oats and the stirring will probably cool the water and stop the boiling for a minute or two. If the power is at a level where the pot will boil lively but not furiously, a minute or two should be all it will take to get them boiling again. Stir again as they come back to the boil; but you don’t need to stir constantly: Stir often enough that the porridge, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring.  “Quick oats” will cook in three minutes or maybe less; large flake oats or rye flakes will take five minutes at least (and should be stirred at least twice while boiling. Opening the lid to stir, means more steam will escape while you’re stirring, and that means you’ll need a little more power to keep the boil going.  At first it takes more attention than when you’ve got used to your pots and stove.)

If you’ve got your pork chop or slice of ham cooked when the porridge is ready, add an apple (or a banana, an orange, etc.) and there you have a hearty, very nourishing breakfast. Most of you, i do believe, will find it tastes better and feels better digesting, than a bowl of dry cereal—even granola—or a boiled egg and toast, which boiled egg and toast take about as long to cook as a pork chop and porridge, once you get the hang of making porridge.

I described Spiced Apple Porridge because it’s about the most complicated form of porridge i make. When you’ve made Spiced Apple porridge, adding cut-up apricots, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, raspberries, or whatever other fruit to porridge will be easier by comparison: No spices needed, and less or no cutting.

People who know more about nutrition than i—or write as if they did—say that refined grain, such as pasta, white bread, white flour, white rice, is much too large a part of the American—and they often imply, the Canadian—diet. Whole wheat bread, whole wheat pancakes, and especially, boiled whole grain give more complete nutrition. The easiest way to get whole grain in your diet, is boiling it in soups, stews—and good old porridge. That bears repetition: Whole grain porridge, whether oats, rye, or even corn or wheat (and corn and wheat together make a tasty porridge that goes better with beef than oatmeal does), is healthier than white bread or part-whole-wheat, or part-white-flour “rye” bread. Porridge beats toast for food value. It beats many of the “dry cereals” out of a box, that cost as much per kilo as steak does. And when you put porridge into the frying pan where the meat was cooked, it picks up the “juices” left behind, and tastes better still.

If you live by yourself or cook breakfast for just yourself, the easiest way to eat porridge and meat, is from the frying pan where the meat was cooked. A small frying pan is just about as convenient to put on the table as a plate (put some paper under it if you cooked on a woodstove, so the bottom won’t dirty your table or your place mat; and let it cool down almost to eating temperature so it won’t mar the table.) It will need cleaning anyway, so by eating from it, you save cleaning a plate—and unlike a plate, you can let the dog help clean a frying pan.**

Oatmeal is the commonest porridge in Canada and the States. Cornmeal “mush” is common in some places, and pretty good with pork and beef. (I think it would be good with chicken, too—but i’ve never had chicken for breakfast on any regular basis.) Wheat flakes with cornmeal, especially toasted coarse cornmeal, make a good porridge for beef and pretty good for pork. (This is written in Canada and like the US, we say “corn” to refer to what the English and most Africans call maize [Zea mays, maís en Español]. When i later refer to corn oil, that means oil pressed from maize, not from grain-in-general.)

The porridge i think really deserves more use and appreciation, though, is rye.

This autumn of 2013, and the rest of the year so far, rye flakes have sold at “Bulk Barn” for less than their price for oats. Rye goes very well with pork (including bacon, ham, and pork sausage) and better with beef than does oatmeal. It also goes best of the grains i know—better than barley, corn, oats, rice, or wheat—with salmon and trout. If you go fishing and have trout or salmon to cook for breakfast—rye porridge is the best accompaniment i know. (Well, if you can get whole rye bread, that’s equally good, a little less work but more expensive. I looked through the chain stores in Miramichi, the first Saturday in November, and found no rye bread. I didn’t ask at the deli counters, but on the shelves—no rye bread that i noticed. My practice, if i had access to good whole rye bread as i had in Thunder Bay, would be to have rye bread with cold fish and rye porridge with hot, freshly cooked fish, of the salmon-and-trout family.)

I’ll recommend that you get rye flakes, unless they’re awfully expensive where you are, and make rye porridge for at least 10% of your breakfasts. It goes well with pork, best with “red” fish, better with beef than oatmeal does. When you have two or more variations on oatmeal, plus rye porridge, in your repertoire, then maybe try cornmeal, or wheat flakes.

Meat, porridge, an apple or other fruit—in the summer, a cucumber or tomato maybe, and your choice of coffee and teas, make up a substantial breakfast that starts the day well and happily. More than one kind of fruit is usually even better than just one. (Cucumbers and tomatoes are botanically fruits, by the way; and i for one can’t appreciate vegetables like beets, carrots, lettuce and spinach first thing in the morning… so i write fruits. If you really delight in carrots and spinach for breakfast—well, de gustibus, non disputandum est.*)

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a fine gentleman, sup like a pauper”, goes an old saying. The Jet Lag Diet prescribes meat for breakfast because high protein food energizes you. (Meatless pasta, or those ramen noodles with the little envelope of mock broth, would then be the dietetic sleeping pill.) My custom of having a decent-sized piece of [usually fried] meat, porridge, and fruit for breakfast isn’t quite kingly, but neither am i… and feasting like a king might do me the same harm it seemed to do Henry VIII. (Durant’s The Reformation: A History of European Civilization from Wyclif to Calvin: 1300-1564. NYC: Simon and Schuster, 1957, esp. p. 576, describes King Henry’s obesity and ill health.)

I expect the next post to be shorter, and focus on techniques of frying meat, for those who lack good experience at that. Meanwhile, if you can fry meat at all, go ahead and enjoy meat-and-porridge for breakfast. A week or so of too much saturated fat in the frying pan shouldn’t hurt you much, and many of you may already know how to fry well with modest amounts of healthier fats.

Bon appetit.



* That’s a famous Latin maxim, and a rough English translation is: “Let there be no arguments, no fights over matters of taste.”

** Dog saliva can carry microbes you don’t want in your food—but the operating temperature of a frying pan is well above the boiling point of water, and will kill them even more surely than boiling (which is the standard “aggressive sterilizing technique”. My rule about giving dishes to the dog to lick, is “will it boil or be hotter than that, next time it is used? If yes, let the dog enjoy what’s stuck to the pan or pot. If no, don’t give it to the dog unless you’re willing to sterilize it with bleach before you use it again.”)

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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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