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Real oatmeal is worth the time

Now that Thanksgiving is out of the way, let’s talk about something that is really important: oatmeal.

Let’s be specific. What most Americans think of as “oatmeal” is really rolled oats. You know, the stuff that comes in the big cardboard tube with the smiling Quaker on the front. These are oat groats (the grain with the husk removed) that have been steamed to soften them and then rolled flat. This process lets you cook them more quickly. The difference between rolled oats that are labeled “old-fashioned” and “quick-cooking” is how thickly they’re rolled.

Real oatmeal is made from raw oat groats that are chopped to a fairly uniform size. It takes longer to cook and has a firmer texture than rolled oats.

I use rolled oats for making cookies and things like that, but you can’t match the real stuff for cereal. I have made something of a small science out of cooking my morning oatmeal. It’s not hard, but I’m convinced that it makes a difference in flavor.

I use the McCann’s Irish Oatmeal that comes in those cool tins. Use a dry saucepan – 1 quart is fine for two or three people. Cook the oatmeal over medium heat about 3 or 4 minutes, until it smells nice and toasty. You’ll hear it start to pop when it’s ready.

When your cereal begins to sing, add water – four times the volume of oats in water (∑ cup of oats, enough for two people, will take 1∑ cups water). Increase the heat to high until the water starts to boil, give the pot a good stir, then turn the flame down to a decent simmer.

Partially cover the pan with a lid, but prop it askew with a wooden spoon or a whisk. If the lid is on tight, the oatmeal will boil over.

Let the oatmeal simmer for a good 20 minutes or so. You don’t need to pay much attention, but if you’re going to walk the dog, put a flame-tamer underneath the pan to keep it from scorching. When the oatmeal is done, there will probably be some liquid on top, and there may be a thin layer of dried flour-skin. This will disappear when you stir it. The oatmeal itself will be tender but still have a bit of “pop.”

Whisk in butter according to your conscience, toss in a small handful of dried fruit (I use raisins, sour cherries and cranberries), cover tightly and let stand off heat for five minutes for the fruit to soften.

You can doctor this base however you want. I like a mix of brown and white sugar (brown for molasses, white for sweetness), or maybe some maple syrup. Then some chopped toasted nuts – almonds or walnuts. Finally, I add just enough milk to make the mixture creamy. If I have leftover steamed milk from the morning coffee, I might use that.

Those quicker-cooking rolled oats are great for granola. And when I’m not eating real oatmeal, my breakfast is usually fruit, yogurt and granola based on Christine Moore’s excellent recipe in her new “Little Flower” cookbook. (I’ve thrown in a few little changes, honoring the recipe in structure if not in detail.)

I change the mix of the nuts and dried fruit depending on what appeals to me at the moment (and depending on what I have left from other cooking).

This granola mix would make a terrific gift, packaged in Ikea storage jars. Include the recipe, because folks will definitely want to fix it again.

And, after all, there are more holidays just around the corner.


Total time: 50 minutes, plus cooling time

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup light brown sugar

½ cup maple syrup

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

3 cups mixed chopped nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds)

4 cups mixed chopped dried fruit (sour cherries, cranberries, apples, pears, apricots, raisins, dates)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two jellyroll pans with silicone mats or parchment.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil, sugar, syrup and salt until clear, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Place the rolled oats and the mixed nuts in a large mixing bowl and pour the sugar mixture over. Stir with a spatula to coat the oats and nuts evenly. Divide the mixture between the lined jellyroll pans, patting with the back of a spatula to make thin, even layers. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Cool slightly before stirring in the dried fruit and storing. The mixture will keep in a tightly covered container at room temperature for at least a week. Makes 16 cups.

(Adapted from Christine Moore’s “Little Flower: Recipes From the Cafe.”)