August of 1945 should have been a time of celebration for Dr. John Welles. The Second World War was over in Europe and swiftly coming to an end in the Pacific. However, John’s homecoming wasn’t what it appeared to be, and the secret surrounding the circumstances were known only to him and his Aunt Prudence. While she was instrumental in helping her nephew make the transition from his experiences as an Army doctor back to civilian life, there was one painful secret of which even Prudence was not aware.
John’s family was seated in the kitchen eating when he arrived. He stood outside the row house and watched from a distance as they ate a simple breakfast that included oatmeal. I chose oatmeal because it is humble and solid just like the Welleses, and this basic breakfast food was representational of the support John’s family would provide during his first, difficult days home.
Long before experts started touting oats for the health benefits, oats have been used as a food source for people and animals. According to one source, only five percent of the oats grown in America are used for human consumption as breakfast food or oat flour. They are believed to be Asiatic in origin and appeared on the scene later than wheat with the earliest uses being for medicinal purposes. Then there is the debate on steel cut versus rolled oats, the explanation on the different types of oats, and the history on the most famous brand I know, Quaker.
The preparation of oats appears on the container, so I’ll focus on the toppings. This is where one has endless possibilities to explore. A favorite at the Gibson household is Zante currents, maple syrup, toasted, chopped pecans, a pat of butter, and cream that has been warmed. Some people keep it as simple as a pinch of salt while others go crazy with chocolate chips and a dollop of peanut butter.
When cooking oats, opt for water over milk as cooking in milk will make for stickier, thicker oatmeal. Save the dairy for a topping. Spices can be added during the cooking process and should be ground; picking out whole cloves and cinnamon sticks afterward is unpleasant. Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt to the water because that’s where seasoning begins.
Bringing the oats and water to a boil together makes for a creamy cereal whereas bringing the water to a boil and then adding the oats results in a chewier meal. I wouldn’t suggest trying this with steel cuts, however, as they are already springy in texture to begin with. Serve oatmeal in a deep bowl to keep it smooth and hot. A shallow dish will cool your breakfast treat too quickly, and you’ll end up with a gluey, unpalatable mess.
If you’ve never enjoyed oats, don’t curl your lip, raise an eyebrow, and pass up oats and oatmeal. They are delicious beyond their nutritional value and neutral appearance. Also, consider them for lunch or dinner, and if you really want to impress, offer them as a side dish to dinner guests with the inclusion of caramelized shallots and uncured turkey bacon or as a dessert made with saffron and cardamom.
“Oats.” Oats. Purdue University – Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Feb. 1999. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
Walsh, Danielle, and Kimberley Hasselbrink. “9 Ways to Totally Screw Up Your Oatmeal.” Bon Appetit. Bon Appétit, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.
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