When I was growing up, my dad always cooked us a big Sunday morning breakfast. It was something he really loved to do for us. He never got up particularly early – I recall “breakfast” most often happening around 11 o’clock – but there’s a certain sunny glow in my memories about those Sunday mornings, all of us gathered around the table, laughing, talking, eating those wonderful pancakes or waffles dripping with butter and syrup, or eggs cooked to order with a side of bacon and his specialty biscuits. Once, we watched him roll out his famous biscuit dough, pour a stick of melted butter across the surface, sprinkle a coat of cinnamon sugar thick enough to soak it all up, then roll the whole thing up into the cinnamon rolls that would become a regular Sunday morning feature and a family favorite. They were over-the-top delicious with a smear of grape jam. In our home, Sunday breakfast was our church service.
On school days, though, we’d each get up in turn, my three sisters and I, have our few minutes in the only bathroom to make ourselves presentable, get dressed, then make our way to the kitchen, where we could serve ourselves from the wide assortment of store-brand cereals on the shelf. If we ended up at the table together, we didn’t usually speak; usually, we had our noses in a book, or, as we got older, we might peruse the apartment-for-rent ads hopefully, a thing my own children do surreptitiously, so no offense, Mom! Then we’d gather our bags and head out to school. We walked for most of our school years, as the schools were all near our home, no matter the weather.
Sometimes, on cold winter mornings, my dad would get up before us and make a pot of oatmeal with raisins. I was the oldest and the first one down, and as he finished up his cooking, he’d smile and wink and wish me a good morning before disappearing to whatever work had gotten him up so early. My heart sank a little on those days, for that pot contained not only a bland, gooey, hot cereal that I detested, but my father’s love, and I was obliged to eat it in love regardless of personal preference. I hope he never knew I hated oatmeal.
My own oatmeal-in-a-pot is a dressed up version of the simple back-of-the-box recipe that my dad made. The addition of milk makes it a little creamier, the butter gives it that certain something that only butter can give, and you can mix and match your fruits and nuts to suit your moods and available ingredients. This is the big-family version, but you can absolutely scale it down to more manageable quantities. Oh, and don’t use quick oats, please. They are too gooey and no good for anything except no-bake cookies.
6 cups water
2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup sugar, plain or brown
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a healthy lump of butter
3-4 cups of fruits and nuts of your choice – Try raisins, apples and pecans, or blueberries and almonds, or cranberries and walnuts…even canned peaches are delicious!
Optional: ground flax seed for extra nutrition
Put the water, milk, salt and any dried fruits into a pot and bring to a boil. Add remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the oats are tender. It’ll take several minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the porridge to rest for about ten minutes. It’ll continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in some ground flax seed, if using, and serve warm with milk or cream and additional sugar or honey, if desired.