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Musing on My Mother’s Oatmeal

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I know the young and perennially fresh will disagree with me, but this clichéd standard is true: what goes around comes around.

Oh, and the second non-earth-shattering revelation? We eventually morph into our parents, no matter how much we scream, flail about, and drag our feet. Yes, all of us.

This thought occurred to me as I was contemplating a Sam’s Club sized container of oatmeal. This is not the tidy packeted and nicely (albeit artificially) flavored instant oatmeal; this is six pounds of raw oats.

I originally purchased the oatmeal to make oatmeal cookies for my youngest, who is a college student in LA. I’d spent the previous four years mailing chocolate chip cookies to her older brother in San Francisco, and as every mother knows, it’s best to quell sibling rivalry whenever possible. She wants an occasional care package, so I send her one. (Also $13 donuts, but that’s another story.)

Staring at the box and realizing that I have dangerously high cholesterol that Zocor is having a hard time taming, I decided I should occasionally make some oatmeal for myself.

No, gentle readers, you do not understand. Just thinking about making oatmeal is a monumental step for me, for you see I’ve been seriously scarred by the oatmeal of my youth. Just passing by that smiling Quaker in the grocery store gives me the heebee jeebies. My mother, bless her departed soul, was a mostly terrible cook. Her oatmeal was gummy and way too salty. We were forced to eat it every day. I could be mistaken, but none of us could stand her oatmeal, instead clamoring for chocolate Cream of Wheat. (Now that’s a real hot cereal!) I took a strong dislike to oatmeal and stretched it to a boycott that has spanned four decades.

Since I have no adult oatmeal experience, I read the instructions carefully. One minute in boiling water, two minutes in the microwave – it seemed simple enough. As per directions, the resulting oats floating in the pan were still hard and retained their round, oaty shape. I drizzled the bowl with a little honey and puddled a tablespoon or so of milk around my oatmeal mound (just like the good old days) but something was wrong. This might be the recommended recipe for cooking oatmeal but it’s not what I was looking for – my mother’s oatmeal.

The next time, I reduced the water and increased the cooking time to ten minutes. The result was a little better. Some of the oats had disintegrated and the texture wasn’t bad – a little lumpy. The oats tasted like they had been partially cooked. You don’t reach that conclusion using the box recipe.

The third time was a charm. After the initial boil, I put the flame to simmer and waited 15 minutes, making certain to stir occasionally, and voila! Here was the oatmeal of my youth, fully cooked and just this side of the gummy, gloppy mess my mother used to make. I liked it!

I’m telling you. What goes around comes around.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • Joanne, is there anything better than oatmeal for breakfast? I never had oatmeal as a kid–and I would rather have that, with honey of course, than any gourmet breakfast anyone could come up with. I started making oatmeal when my girls were little, and we poured on the honey AND the heavy cream. Heavenly. The heavy cream days are gone, but just the thought of oatmeal…mmmmmmmmmmm.

  • I wish I could say the cold rice was Rice Krispies, but no, it was cold cooked rice. I want to throw up just thinking about sushi rice swimming in milk and cinnamon.

  • Well, Joanne, we’ll leave out the piggy toes – we did have a kosher home when I was a kid. But my mother made the best corn soup you could imagine and gave me Rice Krispies for breakfast (along with the oatmeal on other days).

    My father complained something awful about my mother’s cooking – the French toast was too “eggish”, my mother didn’t make borscht like they did in Poland, there wasn’t enough chicken or flanken in the chicken soup, and on and on and on. I think the real problem was that my mother was American born and didn’t have the needle sharp sense of humor or subtle sense of deference my father’s first wife (who was Polish-born) had before she died. But in either event, eating was a feast of delights when I was a child.

  • I grew up on the mushy and gooey. It was like eating paste with milk and sugar. Funny how that’s what I’m craving, not the thin by-the-box recipe.

    One of these days I’m going to have to dredge up memories of corn chowder, pig toes (cover your ears, Ruvy) and cold rice for breakfast.

    I told you she couldn’t cook.

  • Funny, Joanne,

    The oatmeal you describe – salty and thin – was what I grew up on. I loved the stuff and still do. In fact, when I finally started to seriously obey the Jewish dietary laws, it meant that I could no longer enjoy the food at Burger King. I could not have anything there except a cup of coffee, a thing of orange juice, a glass of water.

    So I brought oatmeal packets with me to work and on my break, I actually sat down and ate – instead of doing what I had done in the previous 11 years working there – standing up and stuffing my face with bacon-egg-cheese croissants.

    I paid for the pork and cheese ultimately with a heart attack – but that is the rule of “no free lunch” – not grandma’s oatmeal.

  • My grandma’s idea of roast beef was to cook it for six hours on high. I thought my father would cry the time she took a standing rib roast and gave it her special recipe. Yikes.

  • Wonderful article. Amazing how we indeed resemble our parents the older we get. And I still have nightmares of my family’s overcooked well done beef. Like shoe leather, not good!

    Have a blessed Mother’s Day Joanne.