Get the most from your gruel

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and I apologize.  Mostly we have just been eating out of the freezer or making some of our winter standbys, which we posted last winter.  I’ve been very thankful for the canned peaches and pears that I put away in the summer (and vow to can twice as many peaches next year.)  I’ve been making a lot of yogurt smoothies from my frozen berries and frozen veggies have mostly gone into quiches, which serve as a good dinner and leftover lunch.

My lack of formal cooking might also have something to do with the dark winter nights but is probably more owed to the fact that I now have a slight addiction to waffles.  Really, I’ll eat them for any meal. I’ve been freezing them in stacks in a freezer bag and reheating them in the toaster oven – it works quite well.

When I’m not eating waffles, I find that oatmeal is a great winter breakfast. I like steel cut (or Irish) oats the best, because they really give you something to chew. However, they take so long to cook that I never seem to have time in the morning.  Nourishing Traditions, a book that I got from the library, solved my problem.

Soaking oats over night is not only convenient but can give you a nutritional advantage. When oats, or any grain soak over night with a little bit of dairy, you can feel confident that you’re getting the most out of your grain.

All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer or bran. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc.. ..and block their absorption.. .. Soaking allows enzymes, lactobacilli and other helpful organisms to break down and neutralize phytic acid.


During the process of soaking and fermenting, gluten and other difficult-to-digest proteins are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.

People throughout history and cultures have traditionally soaked and fermented their grains, and scientists are now finding that the action of fermenting allows for increased absorption of vitamins (especially B).

So, if it’s healthier and easier, why not soak your oats over night? Here’s how:

1 cup cracked oats
1 cup warm water
2 tbls. dairy with helpful cultures (yogurt, buttermilk, or whey)

1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water, additional

  1. The night before-
    Mix oats with 1 cup warm water and dairy. Mix, cover, and leave on the counter for at least 7 hours (and up to 24).
  2. In the morning-
    Bring 1 cup of water to boil. (A teapot works well.) Stir this and your salt into the soaked oats mixture.
  3. Bring to a simmer on medium. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until your oats are the consistency you like.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in any of those good things that you like: nuts, dried fruit, honey, maple syrup.

Notes: The book goes on to comment about granola and other breakfast grains. Apparently exposure to dry heat, as in the making of granola, strips valuable nutrients from the grain. That’s unfortunate. She says, “For a new generation of hardy children, we must return to the breakfast cereals of our ancestors – soaked gruels and porridges.” Granola is out. Eat your gruel, kids.


The Quest for Oatmeal Bread

I have been on a quest for the perfect oatmeal bread. When we moved to Bainbridge Island, I finally felt like a local on the day that I casually ordered Blackbird Bakery’s toast and jam. (All of their pretty pastries out front distract the frugal customer or casual visitor from the island’s best kept secret tradition – toast and jam.)

I’ve tried so many different recipes. I’ve searched the internet and consulted the ladies at the baking circle. My mom has listened to me rant and mailed me her best guesses. I’ve oatmeal breadhounded people who have known people who have worked at the bakery. (“All I can tell you,” one lady told me, “is that it takes two days.”) I’ve gathered clues, experimented, and really, the only shame in this process is that we’ve had to eat a lot of just o.k. toast.

And now, I have stumbled upon the most delicious accident. One morning, I misjudged the time that I had to fix breakfast and had to rush out the door, leaving an almost cooked pot of steel-cut oats on the counter. When I got home it was a gloppy mess, but I hated to waste so many oats. I wondered if there was a bread that could be made with leftover oats. There, in King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking, was the answer to my quest! The recipe below is an adaptation from a recipe titled, “Irish Porridge Bread.” While it is not exactly like Blackbird’s, it’s delicious enough to hold us over until we can decode their secret.

Oatmeal Toasting Bread

This bread is both hearty and light. More than just a simple vehicle for jam, it could almost be a complete meal. If you omit the vital wheat gluten, it will  be tasty but will crumble all over your toaster. You may find this ingredient in the bulk foods section.

Makes 1 loaf.

For the ‘porridge’-
Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer. Add 1/2 cup steel-cut oats. Simmer on low, covered, for about 25 minutes.

For the bread-
1 1/2 cups leftover steel-cut oatmeal, room temperature
4 tbls. unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup raw rolled oats
1/4 cup oat bran
2 cups bread flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (If you prefer to make your porridge with milk, omit this.)
2 tbls. vital wheat gluten
2 tsp. instant yeast

  1. Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar and salt.
  2. Add the rolled oats, oat bran, bread flour, dry milk, wheat gluten, and yeast in a large bowl.
  3. Stir in the butter mixture. Add the leftover porridge.
  4. Knead by machine or hand for about 10 minutes. This is a very sticky dough. You may need to add more flour so that you can move from sticky to tacky, which is desirable.
  5. Let the dough rise for 1 hour.
  6. Flour a work surface. Gently flour the dough and fold over about four times. Dust with flour if the dough is sticking to your hands.
  7. Fold the dough in half, pinch the seam, and gently roll into a loaf shape the length of your pan. Place in greased loaf pans. Dust the top with oat bran, if you want. You want the ends of the loaf to touch the short ends of your pan (so it will rise evenly.)
  8. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and a towel. Let it rise for 1 hour.
  9. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.


  • To double the recipe and make 2 loaves, start with: 3 cups water and 1 cups uncooked oats. This will result in 3 cups of cooked oatmeal, which is your goal.
  • If you’ve made fresh oatmeal, go ahead and stir in the butter and brown sugar. Cool your oatmeal down to below 120F, before proceeding with recipe.

How to Dehydrate Apples

Dehydrating is a great way to preserve the flavors of summer and fall. The hardest part is the emotional part – taking delicious plump fruit and willingly committing it to becoming a dry, shriveled memory of itself. I put a lot of cherries away this summer and, though it was hard not to gobble them up when they were fresh, I’m looking forward to using them soon.

Apples take a little preparation. They’ve got a variety of uses, though, so its worth it.

1. Before you begin, prepare your apple bath. I used 1 tsp. of citric acid mixed into 1 quart of water. (I have citric acid for cheesemaking.) You can also use equal parts lemon juice and water.


2. First, peel and core the apples. Slice them into even 1/4 inch pieces. As soon as you’ve sliced them, toss them in the prepared bath to soak.

3. When you’re all finished slicing, spread the apples on the trays of your dehydrator. Do not overlap them. If it has a temperature, set it to 135F.

4. Dehydrate your apples for about 4-6 hours. (I know that’s vague, but you really need to check in on them after 4 hours and then decide how far you want to let them go.)


Uses ffinishedapplesor your dehydrated apples:

  • mix into oatmeal
  • use when making granola
  • munch as a crispy snack
  • mix into cereals
  • add to a trail mix

I referenced CO State University pamphlet on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.

Homemade Granola

Hot oatmeal. Isn’t it just a perfect breakfast? I used to hate it, but I must admit that I’m a convert. It’s warm. It fills me up so that I don’t look at the clock and say, “Really? Only 10AM?” But who has time for oatmeal in the morning!? So, here is my answer to the quick-on-the-go-power-breakfast.

I shared my yogurt secrets. How about some granola to go with it? It can also be eaten like a cereal, with milk over top. If you too have raisin-haters in your household (ahem) just leave the raisins in a separate jar near the granola but not offensively in the granola…

Simple Granola

  1. Put a 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter and 1/2 cup (6 oz) of honey on the stove over low to melt.
  2. Add 27 oz. of dry ingredients in a bowl. A good base is about 16 oz. of oatmeal, plus other good stuff. You might consider sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds. A mixture of rye and or barley flakes join well with the oatmeal. If you’d like, add 1 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon at this step.
  3. Pour the honey-butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix very well.
  4. Equally divide this mixture onto two cookie sheets. I like to line my sheets with parchment paper, so that they granola can be easily poured into a container afterwards.
  5. Cook in a 300F oven for 30 minute (or until a nice brown.) If you have a tricky oven, you might want to rotate the sheets to promote even browning.
  6. Let the granola cool on the cookie sheet. When cool, break up into the size pieces that you look, store, and enjoy!

There’s so much that you can do with this basic recipe. If you’ve have home-dehydrated fruit, go ahead and toss that in instead of raisins. Experiment with the spices. Let me know what you come up with!