Everyone has, buried deep in the crevices of his or her brain, a well of childhood Food-Memories... and for many of us, those memories involve some kind of hot cereal.
Whether you called it hot cereal, porridge, or mush - the latter having a decidedly negative connotation - it was (and is) a completely different experience than the typical cold cereal-with-milk breakfast. Cold cereal is quick and easy. Hot cereal is work-intensive - a morning meal more suited to lazy weekend mornings or snow days.
Oh, sure - there are plenty of “instant” hot cereals. Instant oatmeal. Instant grits. Tear open the packet and add hot water: Bingo! But those are beneath contempt. A proper bowl of porridge takes time.
So let’s take a look at some of these cerealic delights, shall we?
Grits. Grits are made from hominy, alkali-treated ground maize. I consider grits to be in their own category, more of a savory dish that can be served with breakfast than a breakfast by themselves. Grits can be doctored up with cheese and other tasty components, but sweetening a bowl of grits is an act that is committed only by Northerners who are inexperienced and ignorant of the Way of the Grit.
Farina. Farina is a form of milled wheat, popularly sold under the brand name Cream of Wheat. It has a mild, innocuous taste. In my Snot-Nose Days, I thought Cream of Wheat was pretty nondescript, but I actually learned to appreciate its mild, wheaty flavor as I grew older. Best augmented with a bit of butter and/or cream and your sweetener of choice.
Cream of Rice. This is a proprietary brand of coarsely ground rice. That’s it - just rice. It’s probably the only cereal I can think of that’s even more bland than Cream of Wheat... perfect for invalids. Add a little butter and milk and you have a hot breakfast even a toddler can appreciate. Throw in some scallions, a piece of fish, and maybe some chili oil, and you have a passable version of congee, AKA chuk, the ubiquitous Asian rice dish.
Oatmeal. Many of us in America grew up on rolled oats, which take all of fifteen minutes to cook. Quicker cooking versions are available, but the tradeoff is the loss of oatmeal’s characteristic texture. And - speaking of texture - steel-cut oats have a delightful nubbly mouthfeel, which comes at the expense of a longer cooking time. The Mistress of Sarcasm introduced me to the pleasure of steel-cut oats with a spoonful of peanut butter stirred in, and they’re also great when cooked with some Earl Grey tea.
Maltex. Now we head into the realm of the obscure, with this semi-superannuated cereal made of a blend of wheat and malted barley syrup. It’s still around, but not a common supermarket item. All I can say is that I liked it when I was a kid.
Maypo. Those of us of a certain age will remember the ads for this maple-flavored oat cereal, in which one Marky Maypo (voiced by an actual four-year-old) would insist, “I want my Maypo!” to the eternal consternation of his Dad. I was never a fan: The stuff was too sweet and mushy for my taste.
Wheatena. This one is also pretty obscure, but your local Superdupermarket might actually carry it. It’s a wheat-based cereal (as is obvious from the name) with an assertive flavor that is a million miles away from the bland Cream of Wheat style. A hot bowl of Wheatena transports me back sixty years in time like few other breakfasts can do.
So: What’s your favorite hot cereal?
Postscriptum: This morning I made myself a pot of Earl Grey steel-cut oats. First I steeped the tea in hot milk, then cooked the oats in the scented milk. A little Irish butter, some Demerara sugar, and Bob’s your uncle! Magnificent. Try it!