James Werrell

Seeking the formula for breakfast of champions

Oats aren't always oats. Sometimes, they're groats.

I have been experimenting with making my own granola. This is not entirely an effort to improve my nutrition, get back to nature or relive my hippie days, although it may be a little of all those things.

What it is mostly is an attempt to make something I can eat quickly in the morning from ingredients I like that won't cost a fortune. Commercial granola is expensive and often full of stuff I don't particularly care for. I'm not crazy about raisins, which usually are found in abundance in packaged granola. And they usually overdo the vanilla and sugar, too.

I like granola with lots of nuts and dried fruit that isn't too sweet. Of course, good granola requires plenty of oats.

My first batch a few weeks ago was a winner. I baked oats, sunflower seeds, chopped pecans and wheat germ moistened with a little peanut oil and slightly sweetened with maple sugar for about 40 minutes, stirring it around every so often. When it cooled down, I added a few cups of chopped dried cranberries.

Oh, and I used a recipe.

On the second batch, I got cocky. Recipes? We don't need no stinkin' recipes!

I mixed together the oats, nuts and syrup. And then -- why not? -- about three cups of a mixture of whole grains I had picked up in the organic food section at the grocery store.

The result? Tasty toasted oats and nuts mixed with sand. The whole grains, after baking in the oven for 40 minutes, hardened into tooth-shattering grit.

I tried toasting more oats and adding them to the mixture, which helped a bit. But the hard, gritty grains still dominated.

The solution: More oats. In search of the box with the smiling Quaker on it, I stumbled across handsome cans of imported oats from Ireland that had been drastically reduced in price. I bought 11 cans, an ample supply for months to come, I figured.

I proudly showed my cans of oats to a friend, who gave me a quizzical look and asked if I knew these were steel-cut oats, not rolled oats.


She explained that steel-cut oats were nothing like the typical rolled oats used to make the oatmeal we hated as children. Those oats are steamed and flattened so they cook quickly.

Steel-cut oats are hulled oats that are left largely in their natural state. They are the groats used to make porridge -- which has to be cooked on a stovetop for about an hour before it is soft enough to eat.

"Here, look," said my friend, opening a can of imported Irish steel-cut oats. They were like tiny oat BBs, hard as rock. No wonder they were on sale. Who has an hour to make porridge in the morning? Maybe I can unload my Irish oats on the three bears, but otherwise, I'm not sure what I'll do with them.

I have scoured the Internet looking for recipes that might work, but most require a long cooking time. One, however, for oat griddle cakes looked promising, at least for a Saturday breakfast.

Meanwhile, I am working my way through the last batch of crunchy granola. Where's a hippie when you need one?