By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
You all know that adage, “Sow your wild oats." It was first intended to tell a young man to have some sexual dalliances before he settled down. The phrase originated back in the 1500s in England, and sounds rather musty in modern times. But the literal meaning of sowing wild oats has been happening here in California since April and will continue through June. Wild oats abound in empty fields, boulevards, neighbors’ yards, and just about everywhere they want to go.
Wild oats are eaten by human beings when ground into flour. They are usually mixed in with bales of alfalfa and other grasses for horses and other domesticated animals. Deer and many bird species also feed on wild oats. A field of wild oats is quite beautiful and I’m forever admiring the golden color of oat stalks waving in the breeze. The problem with this plant, however, is that it is very invasive to other crops, such as wheat.
Old-fashioned or rolled oats are eaten by many Americans. Still, though oats are very nutritious, only about three pounds of oats per capita are eaten in this country. Denmark, on the other hand consumes three times more than we eat. Oats are mostly grown in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin or they are imported from Canada and a few European nations. Oats are synonymous with the brand Quaker Oats, which has the largest oat milling plant in the world, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Eating a hot, steamy bowl of oatmeal really warms your insides. I have fond memories of consuming them most of my life. I remember at summer camp, there was always this large beat-up aluminum pot of it on the stovetop for campers as an alternative to cold cereal or the occasional egg breakfast. My favorite part was eating the lumps. Cora, our cook, wasn’t the best at making smooth porridge. Because the pot bottom was so thin, she had a tendency to scorch it on occasion!
In grade school, it was the BEST breakfast before going out in the snow to play or trudge to school. Back in the day, my mom always made it on top of the stove. With the advent of the microwave, I have moved into the 21st century by zapping my cereal. I usually use 2 parts water to 1 part oats. I prefer rolled oats, as they have the most texture next to steel-cut. Quick cooking oats are processed thinner and require last water. Instant oats are thinner yet, and quite frankly, I don’t find them very appealing.
An observation of mine at my gourmet food shop was how some of the staff ate oatmeal. We never had less than a 50 lb. bag on the rack, so mind you, oats were widely available. But two of my chefs repeatedly brought in those puny bags of instant oats, preferring that over the real deal. Harrumph!
When we drove across the country from Michigan to California twice a year for eight years, I always packed my own oats. The motels had microwaves and bags of flavored instant oats which tasted awful. I much preferred real rolled oats. Eating the oatmeal along with some fresh fruit carried me all the way to a lunch spot, avoiding a fast-food breakfast.
I would be remiss to discuss oats and not talk about Cheerios, the first oat cereal, created back in 1941 by General Mills. It has graced tables worldwide for decades. Over the years, General Mills has developed many iterations of Cheerios, different flavors and other grains thrown in. Who hasn’t given them to little kids as a great finger-food snack? Cheerios are healthy and easy to pick up by baby or toddler hands. I’ve even used them as a training tool for my dogs. I’ve never seen a dog get so excited for a reward as small as a Cheerio. I can’t imagine what they’d do for a hamburger!
Full disclosure: I like my Cheerios soggy. I like all cold cereals soggy. There, I said it. Is that a travesty? I also eat mine with bananas first choice, blueberries second.
Let’s not forget to discuss the versatility of rolled oats in baking. It is a staple in my pantry. Streusel topping on a fruit crisp is more appealing with oats mixed in. Oatmeal raisin cookies are a national treasure. After chocolate chip cookies, our “oaties” at my bakery were second in popularity. Quick breads and yeast breads, cookies, and power bars–these are terrific uses for oats. An oat porridge can also be served savory with cooked greens, topped with a poached egg.
In the past several years, there’s been a push to make overnight oats. That’s when you assemble your rolled oats, milk, yogurt, fresh fruit, dried fruits, sweetener, peanut butter, Nutella and/or nuts in a jar. Leave it overnight in the fridge and in the morning, you can microwave it or eat it cold. It’s great for a healthy, filling on-the-go breakfast.
Today, I’m offering a recipe for breakfast or brunch created in a different way. It is Oatmeal Pudding, made in a casserole. It’s a great dish for company or to make a batch, keep in the fridge, and microwave in the morning. I’m putting dried cherries in, but feel free to add any dried fruits or nuts. I’m also topping it with a fruit compote as a nice contrast to the texture and flavor of the pudding.
Tell us here at The Insider if you have fond memories of eating hot oatmeal and what you like to put in it. Make sure there are no lumps!
Oatmeal Pudding Squares with Fresh Fruit Compote
Yield: 9-12 servings
3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 qt. milk
1 qt. water
1/2 tsp. salt
6 lg. eggs, beaten
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 c. dried cherries OR 1 1/2 c. raisins
Oatmeal Pudding Squares
In a large saucepan, bring the milk and water to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the oats. Bring back to a boil. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the oats are fully cooked, about 7 minutes. Pour into a large bowl. Cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9”x13” casserole with pan release. Reserve.
Add the eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon to the oats. Fold in the cherries or raisins. Pour into prepared dish. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until set. Serve warm with fresh fruit compote or pure maple syrup.
Fresh Fruit Compote
1 lg. ripe mango, peeled, and cut into 1/4” dice
1 ripe firm banana, cut into 1/4” thick circles
1 1/2 c. strawberries, cut into 1/4” pieces
1 1/2 c. blueberries
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, or to taste
1 Tbsp. Cointreau or Grand Marnier
In a medium bowl, combine all of the fruit. Sprinkle in the sugar to taste. Blend in the liquor.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.