Retrofitting Vintage

In Praise of Porridge

A good morning indeed.
A good morning, indeed.

It’s currently 9 degrees in Chicago.

Of course, after the Polar Vortex of Doom last year, 9 degrees doesn’t sound so horrible, but it’s still cold enough that I think everything should be cancelled except snuggling and cups of tea. Failing that, I decided to start my day off cozily, with porridge.

There’s nothing like a warm bowl of hot cereal to make you feel like a pioneer. And since we all know how much I enjoy feeling like a pioneer (minus the scarlet fever and back breaking labor involved with actual pioneering), I am a fan. Porridge of various sorts is usually pretty inexpensive, nutritious, and doesn’t require any fancy equipment (I’m looking at you, waffle irons). It’s simple to prepare, doesn’t take up much room in your pantry, and makes you feel super healthy, even if you just covered it with brown sugar.

All Kinds of Porridge

This morning, I enjoyed a bowl of multigrain porridge, because I had a jar that was taking up room in my freezer. (It’s Bob’s Red Mill 7 Grain, fyi.) I cooked it with raisins, and mixed in some almond milk after I’d warmed it up. The raisins sweetened it nicely. Delicious, and a great way to get in a major serving of whole grains.

Usually, though, I’m a plain old oatmeal person. Not as much as B, who used to regularly order bowls of oatmeal at the bar we frequented back in Michigan. (Side note: Yes, the bar served oatmeal. He didn’t just suggest it.) I like oatmeal raw, I like it cooked, I like it baked. For a variety of marvelous oatmeal recipes, and general inspiration, check out the recipe archive at Oh She Glows. The possibilities, they’re endless!

Of course, oatmeal and multi-grain cereals aren’t the only porridges you can start your day with. There’s grits, there’s cream of wheat, there’s congee, there’s cornmeal mush. I just happen not to make any of those all that much, especially not cornmeal mush. I keep thinking I like cornmeal mush. Every couple of years I forget that I don’t like it, or think that somehow calling it “polenta” will make it more tasty. I do not like it, Sam I Am. Not fried, not with syrup, not under tomato sauce. You might, though. Lots of people do.

Porridge Problems

As I see it, there are two major detractors from the hot cereal breakfast. The time it takes, and cleaning up afterwards.

If you have to wake up in the morning, cook your cereal, eat it, and clean up, you might just be late for work. Unless you got up earlier, but, while a hot breakfast is lovely, it’s not so great that I want to sacrifice sleep for it.

The trick here is to cook enough porridge to last you through the week. Big batches also make hot cereal way more feasible for busy people. I cooked up my porridge and raisins on Sunday night–I made about a quart. I poured it into a quart jar, waited for it to cool, and then stuck it in the fridge. In the morning I just dish some out and microwave it. This makes me way more likely to have hot cereal for breakfast instead of a tangerine and pretzels, or whatever else is sitting out.

I’m not always ready to eat right when I wake up, but porridge is surprisingly portable. When I was working outside of my home, I would parcel out a big batch of oatmeal into small jars to take with me and eat at my desk. It worked out pretty well. Dry oatmeal is also a good thing to a keep a baggie or jar of in your desk for emergency snacking, if your workplace has a microwave.

The thing I like least about hot cereal is the clean up. Since grains are starchy, they stick to whatever you cook them in, at least a little. If you’re cooking a big batch, you’re already ahead of the game, since then you only have to clean up your porridge mess once. The trick to getting it done quickly is to rinse out your pot immediately. Yes, before you eat your oatmeal.  An immediate rinse is much, much easier than chipping dried oatmeal off the sides of your cookware.

The Mix-ins

Since hot cereal is generally mild in flavor (some might say “bland” but they clearly lack sophistication), it makes a wonderful canvass for other flavors some possibilities include:

The Traditional–How my mother made it.  Put a dab of butter (I use Earth Balance) a significant amount of brown sugar, and the milk of your choice on top. Allow it to get melty, but don’t stir.

The Most Pioneery–Top with blackstrap molasses. Or whatever lesser molasses you have handy.

The Most Like a Cookie–Add a tablespoon of peanut butter, a dollop of sweetener, and a shake of cinnamon.

The Tropical–Top with dried mango, coconut, a shake of ginger and cinnamon, a splash of coconut milk.

The Inspired by Indian Desserts–Top with dried mango, coconut, ginger, pistachios and cardamom.

The Inspired by What I Think New England is Like–Top with dried cranberries and maple syrup.

The Jam Band–Spoonful of your favorite jam and milk.

The Actually Probably Most Healthy–Top with fresh fruit and almond milk.

Is hot cereal appealing to you? What do you like for breakfast?


  1. I just made Oh She Glows’ recipe for peanut butter banana oatmeal. Holy tastywow, Batman. Great start to a freezing rainy day….

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