Photo by Judith Hausman
In children’s stories, we hear about two ends of the spectrum for breakfast: Oliver Twist ate thin gruel when he could get it, but Goldilocks and the bears ate rich porridge. (Miss Muffit was a cheesehead though — she ate curds and whey.) Gruel and porridge were roughly equivalent to hot cereal with different ratios of water to grain.
Lucky Goldilocks may have enjoyed Baby Bear’s hearty porridge, but she could never have gotten so rosy-cheeked and flaxen-haired on instant oatmeal. I know the stuff is still a better choice than Krispy Kremes, but I’ve never liked those over-sweetened, overpriced, fake-tasting powdery packets with the smiling Quaker on them. When I followed an emerging trend of locally grown grains, I interviewed and visited Don Lewis, owner of Wild Hive Bakery in Clinton Corners, N.Y. I bought a bag of his locally grown, eight-grain hot-cereal mix, and I got an idea.
Don started out as a baker and farmers’ market vendor of sweets, moved into bread and pizza baking, and then reached his goal of using 100 percent Hudson Valley-grown flour in his breads in about seven years. Don told me that the Hudson Valley was the breadbasket of the Civil War. Now he contracts with area farmers to grow many, many grains and sells the rye, faro, cornmeal, flours and so on, as well as the bread. He has also now transformed a very cool old post office/general store into a locavore general store, cafe and event space.
My idea was to concoct my porridge from scratch. Why not? I already had plenty of random grains in my pantry. Christmas porridge is normally based on a traditional Swedish recipe made with rice — but we’re not in Sweden. I started with brown rice and barley first because they take the longest to cook. I just covered them with water and put them on to simmer. A pour of quinoa came next — I just dumped in more water and brought it all to simmer again. Then I had to sift in the cornmeal a little carefully because it can get lumpy and soak up all the liquid fast.
If the porridge got too stiff, I could add some more water or maybe that little bit of cider I was keeping in the fridge or even some milk. Oats were last to go in because I just had old-fashioned rolled oats, not the longer-cooking, steel-cut kind. That makes five grains, not eight, but that was fine. I stirred, covered and checked it. When all the grains got as chewy as I like them, I added dried cherries or raisins, apple slices, walnuts and flax seed. Goldilocks could go all day on this stuff.
Yes, it takes about 35 to 45 minutes to cook but I now make a big batch and nuke a portion each morning. As with much good eating, just a little forethought can result in really quick and really good meals. If you must, enhance and customize this porridge with butter, more milk, maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and so on.
I’ve never tried leaving it on the table to see if it attracts little blond girls but it is just right … maybe even for Christmas morning.
As a long-time freelance food writer, Judith Hausman has written about every aspect of food, but local producers and artisanal traditions remain closest to her heart. Eating close to home takes this seasonal eater through a journey of delights and dilemmas, one tiny deck garden, farmers’ market discovery and easy-as-pie recipe at a time. She writes from a still-bucolic but ever-more-suburban town in the New York City ‘burbs.