It’s a seasonal thing, my Breakfasty Obsession.
During the warm months, a bowl of cold cereal buried in fresh berries is my preferred Daily Jumpstart. But on a chilly, rainy, blustery November day like today, what better time to consider the glories of a bowl of Hot Cereal?
Those of us of a Certain Age may remember the old ads for Maypo breakfast cereal (“I Want My Maypo!”), a cereal that touted itself on the basis that it “tastes like maple sugar candy.” Me, I was never a fan of the Maypo … but there were plenty of other hot cereals that I did like.
There was Cream of Wheat and Cream of Rice, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of bland wheat-based cereals, and Farina, their kissin’ cousin. When I was a kid, these cereals were just plain boring … yet as an adult, I can appreciate the subtle flavors of these farinaceous Tabulae Rasae far more.
Oatmeal is a reliable old standby. I sneer at the “instant” or “quick-cooking” versions, which have a texture falling somewhere in the middle of the Mush-to-Snot spectrum. Old-fashioned rolled oats, which still cook plenty fast enough (five minutes), have a lot more “tooth.” But my real favorite in the Oat Department would be Irish steel-cut oats. Instead of little flakes made by crushing the oat grains between steel rollers, Irish oats are little pellets made by slicing the grains with metal blades. They require longer cooking than rolled oats, but their nubbly texture and nutty flavor make them worth the time investment. A bowl of Irish oatmeal doesn’t need any decoration, either, although most Americans will sweeten it up a bit.
Another old favorite is Wheatena, which comes from the same people who make Maypo (yes, it still exists). It’s made from toasted wheat and has a pronounced “buckwheaty” flavor, a little like kasha … a perfect way to start the day on a late fall or winter morning.
Maltex, which I haven’t seen in years, is basically Wheatena doped with malted barley syrup. Tasty good, if my hazy recollection is worth anything. I’d love to have a bowl of Maltex again … haven’t seen it since I was in elementary school.
Living in the South, as we do, I cannot talk of Hot Cereal without mentioning grits. (“Hominy grits?” “A whole buttload of ’em.”) Grits, however, are not merely a Hot Cereal: They are an institution. A proper bowl of grits deserves butter, salt, pepper, and (if desired) cheese. A sprinkle of chopped jalapeños is a fine topper. But woe be unto him that treats grits like a Hot Cereal, adding sweeteners and (gag) milk.
Today there are all kinds of weird-ass hot cereals, with grains we never knew in our Snot-Nose Days. Kashi. What the hell is Kashi? It ain’t kasha, that’s for sure. Millet? Quinoa? I don’t know … but I’ll try anything once.
Now: What’s it gonna be? Irish oatmeal? Or Wheatena? The saucepan beckons…