Oat Cuisine

"In Your Dreams" Horse Farm: Alpharetta, GA

GUESTS: Casey (the horse)

    The venerable English essayist Samuel Johnson wrote, "Oats: a food usually reserved for horses in England, in Scotland supports the people."*

CASEY: Shbbbbbb.

    A few years later, his own biographer, the equally venerable Boswell himself a Scot, wrote back, "Aye, which is why in England you'll raise fine horses, while in Scotland we'll raise fine peepul."** Now bad accents and cultural differences not withstanding, it turns out that oats are, well, pretty much a wonder food.  And I'm pretty confident with, that, uh, a little patience, the right tools, a little science, they can be converted from humble horse feed to, uh, good eats.

"In Your Dreams" Horse Farm

GUEST: Deb Duchon, Nutritional Anthropologist

    You know, uh, Alexander the Great fed oats to his horse because he, uh, believed they would make them run like the wind.

DEB DUCHON: [off camera in a low voice] Yeah, but he never ate them himself. Huh, huh.
  C: Shbbbppp. Shbbbppp.
AB: [to the horse] How's that?
DD: Well the Greeks and Romans considered oats to be nothing more than a diseased version of wheat.
AB: Okay. Well, then how did we get from you eating them to me eating them.
DD: Well, buddy, if we hadn't been eating 'em you never would have eaten 'em because the cultivation of oats grew along with the domestication of horses. They spread all over Europe and made the Europe we know today.
AB: Wait a second. Are you sure you're not a nutritional anthropologist? [swings around to DD]
DD: [in her own voice and in an English riding suit] No, but I am.
AB: Oh, looky. It's Auntie Mame. Tally ho.
DD: Heh, heh, heh.

Horse Trail

GUEST: Serenade the horse

AB: So what exactly was the Roman's beef with oats?
DD: Well, the Roman culture was based on Greek culture and the Greeks were into wheat, maybe because they could make leavened bread with it.

    Ah, you see, uh, oats lack the necessary protein to create gluten. That's that stretchy stuff that allows risen breads to rise.

DD: The nice thing about oats is that they'll grow in cool, moist climates where other grains won't grow.  And they're not real picky about the soils, either.
AB: You know, the Romans never did conquer the Scots, did they?
DD: No they didn't. Maybe it was the oats.
AB: Hmm. Maybe it was.
DD: And they're also highly nutritious. In a way, that's part of their problem.
AB: How's that?
DD: Well, they contain 2 to 5 times more fat than other grains. And they also contain a fat dissolving enzyme and so they go rancid really quickly. You have to process them immediately after harvesting.

    Ah, that fat explains why there's oatmeal in so many different soap products. Oh and by the way, it's almost all unsaturated.

AB: So, anything else you want to throw in the porridge pot?
DD: Only one more thing. The Scots liked to stir their porridge clockwise for luck.
AB: Huh.

DD: They even use a special stick. They call it a spurtle.

[spurtle from Sunrise Woodcrafts]

AB: A spurtle, huh. That reminds me of another Scottish delicacy. I can see it now, "Ode To A Haggis."

SCENE 4 The Woods

GUEST: Scotsman Paul

    [in a very bad Scottish brogue] Sew, yuu want tu make a Hah-gis. Well, step one is you're going to have to find a stoomick, a ship's [sheep] stoomick, and sook it overrrnight in salty water, right?
    Step tew, you're gonna have to find yourself soom bits and pieces like a ship's tongue, a ship's long, a ship's liver or bladder and the like.
    Step three, is yuu put 'im in the salty water and bring 'em to a burrl for at least two 'owers. Excellent.
    Nowew, when they're done, take outs your parrts and put 'em out on the cuttin board. Ew, be careful about the burlin' water, would yuu? Now, hack at them until their little intzy, bintzy bits bein' extra careful to look out for any skin or grilse or you'll get the back of me hand.
    Now, hack in maybe 3 or even 4 u'nions while you're at it. Now that that's duun, gew ahead and add half a pound of suet chopped fine ...

SP: [can't find the suet]
AB: Suet! It's the stuff on the left.

    You nuu idea how hard it is to find guud coolinary help in Scotlan'. Nowew, once you've hacked it all into wee bits, add half a bag of soft {salt?} oats.

AB: Hurry up!

    [sighs] It's a wunder we ever get anything un the table. Aye. Right. Nowew, time to stoof the stoomick. [approaches the work area] Don't be shy. [camera hangs back] Don't be shy! [camera approaches]
    Nowew, stoof you're soppin' stoomick full of the mixture thusly. Mmm, mmm. Right.

AB: Too many onions.

    Now, get yourself a bit of string and tie it up into a lovely, notily portion and boil it fer three hours to three days but not a minute longer ... or you'll get the back of me hand!

Feeing brave?
Download a Haggis recipe from www.foodtv.com

The Kitchen


    Once the oats are harvested, the miller has got a lot of choices to make. For instance he might elect to remove only the outer hull. That would produce whole oats, also known as groats. You notice that, uh, they still have their entire bran coat on, a lot like brown rice which is not a complete accident because you know what? They also taste kind of like brown rice. Nice, but a little too nutty for my taste. The other things is that, uh, even if you soak them overnight and cook them for hours, they're chewy as Gumby. I'll pass.


    Now, if you were to take these, however, and send them through steel cutters you would have steel cut oats, a.k.a. Scotch oats or Irish Oats or—I love this one—pinhead oats. They also take a little while to cook. But they produce a very creamy porridge. Mmm. It's also just a little bit chewy, a little toasty ... mmm. They're really nice.

AB: [hands bowl back to B] Thank you.

    It's kind of like of like breakfast risotto.

Steel Cut Oats

    Now if you were to take these and steam them and press them out in rollers and then dry them, you would have rolled oats, a.k.a. old fashioned oats, a.k.a. oatmeal. These are the oats we think of when and, well, if we think of oats. Now the idea of mashing them flat that was an American thing. Makes them cook faster. The problem is, faster is not always better. In fact, uh, they tend to produce a rather measly mush. They do have some other applications which they are very well suited, but we'll get to those later.

Rolled Oats

    Could you process them even more? Well, sure. Why not? You could mash them even thinner, par-cook them and then dry them. Then you'd have instant oats which I wouldn't feed to my horse.

Instant Oats

    Nope. For me I think I'm going to go with the pinhead oats. Because in the end, they produce a porridge that's just right. Mmm. But you know what? I think we could improve them with just a little bit of tinkering.

AB: Back to the lab, Big Guy.

93% of the U.S. oat crop is fed to animals.

The Kitchen

    Tinkering in this case means sautéing one cup of pinhead ... hee, hee, hee, I just, I love that name ... oatmeal in a tablespoon of butter. Why bother? Well all this heat is going to caramelize some of the natural sugars in the oatmeal. And that is going to make the oatmeal taste even roastier and toastier than it already does. Now, we've got time to contemplate liquid but keep an eye on this and keep it moving every now and then because, uh, there's a very thin line between toasty and toast, okay?

1 Cup "Pinhead" Oats
1 Tbls Butter

    Now when it comes to liquid, a cup of pinhead oatmeal will absorb 4 cups of liquid, 3 cups of which I like to be boiling water. Now I could, uh, boil that in just a regular old stovetop vessel but I really like to use an electric kettle for this. Why? Efficiency. There's not a lot of wasted heat flying around the kitchen. And, it is fast. In fact by the time this water comes to the boil, I think those oats will just be getting ready. The other thing that's nice about speed is we don't waste a lot of vapor out in the kitchen. We put in three cups, we get three cups boil. Sweet.

3 Cups H2O

    As soon as your oats smell nutty, time to add the water. Just pour it right down the center. Don't be afraid of the bubbles. Bubbles are good. There. Now just turn down the heat to simmer, give it a stir and, uh, ... [salt container is  handed to him] Ooo. Actually, no. That would be a bad idea right now. Why? Let me tell you a story.

Little Pink House

GUEST: Pentosans Ken, Salt Ken and Water Barbie

    Let's say this little pink house is an oat and inside lives a shy, naturally occurring gum called pentosans. Now pentosans loves water and whenever some comes around he really wants to break out of that oat so that he and water can get together and make a nice thick liquid. But there's a problem. Here comes salt. And salt wants water, too. And what salt wants, salt gets. And that means pentosans has to stay pent-up in his little oat and your porridge doesn't get creamy.


The Kitchen

    So skip the salt and petrosans [sic] will stick to his gums. That's a joke. Gums.
    Well as soon as you've got a simmer maintained, cover this and leave it alone for 30 minutes. Don't worry. As long as you've got a nice heavy pot and a heavy lid, nothing bad is going to happen. Now this gives us a little time to contemplate our next liquidous addition.

    I like to go with half a cup of whole milk [to] just add a little bit of richness and to that I like to add another half cup of buttermilk to add a tantalizing tang. Now you can use whole buttermilk or you can use low fat buttermilk but, uh, fight the urge to use skim buttermilk. It just doesn't deliver on richness or twang. Oh, and always put these together before you add them to the porridge. That way the buttermilk won't curdle.

1/2 Cup whole milk
1/2 Cup buttermilk

High heat and acid can curdle buttermilk producing curds and whey.

    Well, it looks like petrosans [sic] got lucky after all. So it's safe now to add salt. I'd go with about half a teaspoon. If you want more you can always add it later. Also time to go ahead with the dairy goods. Now there's one place that the Scottish definitely got it right. We need to stir this in but if we do it with a spoon all we're going to do is chop up what's left of the oats into mush. Now I don't have a spurtle to my name, but I do have a spoon with a nice thick handle on it. So I'm just going to work in the dairy with this. Just give this a stir off-and-on for about the next 10 minutes or until this mixture reaches the thick and creamy destination you desire.


    I like mine with just a little bit of brown sugar and a little bit more buttermilk.

AB: [to hand pouring buttermilk] Thank you very much.

    Of course [it] wouldn't be bad to have a touch of cinnamon, either. That'll do it. Mmm. You know, speaking of cinnamon, interesting stuff. Most of what's actually shipped into this country and sold as cinnamon comes a tree called the cassia tree. That's ground from sticks that look like this. It's not actually a stick, by the way. It's bark peeled off of the very tip-top limbs of this cassia tree.
    If you really want to taste what real cinnamon taste like, you've got to get a different cinnamon stick, a real cinnamon stick from a real cinnamon tree. You notice it's a heck of a lot larger. That's because it's peeled from a lower branch, more maturity more flavor.
    Of course, uh, it's kind of hard to find this kind of cinnamon, the real stuff, because they just don't keep it in grocery stores. It's too easy to get this. But you can find it on the internet and through catalogue spice houses. You can even order whole logs like this one which came from Vietnam but, uh, unless you've got a hammer mill in the basement, you might want to stick with the powdered version.

True cinnamon comes from the Zeylanicum tree.

Front Porch Steps

    You can't have a conversation about oats without talking about fiber 'cause you've gotta have fiber if you're going to be regular and you gotta be regular if you're going to be happy, right? But what exactly is fiber? Well, it's usually defined as the portion of a plant that we eat that can't easily digest. Now let's just pretend for a moment that this box is a big oat and it is going to be full of a lot of different things. Open it up and start digging around and you will find carbohydrates, minerals, protein and, uh, vitamins—[referring to the small jar of vitamins] cute, huh?—among other things. But then you're going to be left with a lot of structural and, uh, and filler. This is fiber and there is a lot of it. And that is good and it's also not quite that simple.

Gastro-Intestinal "Track"
[Marist School, Atlanta, GA]

GUEST: Insoluble Fiber (man pulling one grocery carts)
            Soluble Fiber (man pulling three grocery cart) 

    There are two distinct brands of dietary fiber, soluble and insoluble, and they act very differently inside the ole gastrointestinal tract. [fires starter pistol] And they're off. Goodness.

    [running alongside IF] Insoluble fiber won't dissolve in water so it tends to move through the body very quickly taking whatever groceries are around with it. Thus the nickname, Nature's Broom. Everybody needs this kind of fiber on a regular basis.

insoluble fiber

    [walking along with SF] Soluble fiber does dissolve in water. In fact, in the body it turns into a kind of thick, viscous gel which moves very slowly towards, well, where it's going. And that's good because if you eat a food really high in soluble fiber, you're stomach is going to stay fuller longer so you're going to eat less. Soluble fiber also slows the absorption of glucose into the body which means you're going to avoid those nasty sugar highs and lows. Once more, it inhibits the re-absorption of bile into the system which means your liver is going to have to get its cholesterol fix from your blood which means your blood-serum cholesterol's going to go down. I pity the poor fool who don't eat his oatmeal.

soluble fiber

Oats contain more soluble fiber than any other grain.

Bed, Bath & Beyond, Atlanta, GA

GUEST: "W", Equipment Mistress

AB: [bangs into clear Plexiglas door] Ow.
 W: What do you want?
AB: I'm fine, thanks. [slowly] Actually, dub-yah, I was looking for a slooow cooker.
 W: Oh, finally finding a tool that's suited to you.
AB: Eh, he, he, he.
 W: And don't call me dub-yah.
AB: Ah, what's the matter, dub-yah? Don't ... [almost hits door again] I'll go this way. [spies an Emeril cookware brochure and takes one]
 W: So, what are you ruining today?
AB: [still speaking slowly] You're af-ter-noooon.
 W: Besides that.
AB: Oooats.
 W: There are a lot of electric cookers on the market. Most have metal interiors and do double-duty as steamers, rice cookers, or fryers. You see the thermostat goes from a simmer all the way up to 425.
AB: Thaat's nooot slooow.
 W: Not especially. And since metal is such a fast conductor, as the thermostat cycles on and off the food goes through the highs and lows.
AB: Well you know, dub-ya, we all go through our hiiiighs and our looows.
 W: Tell me about it. That's why I suggest a cooker with a ceramic interior.
AB: Yeah? Well gee, that just looks like a bean crock on a heater.
 W: That's essentially what it is. There are very few settings and they're all very slow.
AB: Sloooow.
 W: Heavy glass lid keeps the moisture in so you can forget about it for hours ...
AB: Hmm. Does that mean ...
 W: Which is perfect for someone as slow as you.
AB: Heh, heh, heh, heh. [talking normal] That was fun.

Muesli, or Swiss oatmeal, is usually soaked or cooked overnight.

The Bedroom: Night Time

    Want to infuse your oats with an other-worldly goodness and have them ready and waiting for you in the morning? Hey, anything's possible with a slow cooker. This is my bedroom edition. I've also got one in the kitchen, one in the garage and, of course, there's one downstairs in the ... well, never mind. Start with a cup of pinhead oats and add to that 4 cups of water and 1 cup of cream. Heh, come on. If you're going to have it [the cream] you might as well have it in something that's good for you, right? Besides, we're going to be skipping the butter.

1 Cup Pinhead Oats
4 Cups H2O
1 Cup Cream

    Now, fruit. The dryer the better. And I like to go with about a cup of dried cranberries and half a cup of dried figs. You could use almost anything: blueberries, cherries, apricots, you name it. Now these are going to re-hydrate which means they're going to steal moisture away from the oats which is why we've up-ed the amount of moisture. That, and of course we're going to lose some through evaporation even with this heavy lid.

1 Cup Dry Cranberries
1/2 Cup Dry Figs, Chopped

    Now just turn this to low and leave it overnight. Remember, that we are leaving an appliance on overnight and, uh, that can be kind of dangerous. So make sure you've got it on a nice stable platform without any flammables around. Sweet dreams.

Other possible fruit additions:
dry cherries
dry apricots (sliced thin)
dry blueberries
dry pineapple
prunes (slice thin)

The Bedroom: Morning

    Mmm. Now that is a bowl of oatmeal worth waiting all night for. If you'd like to, you could add a little salt come morning light, but uh, give it a taste first. You might find out you like it just the way it is.
    I have to tell ya. Sitting here in the morning light with 5 pounds of oatmeal makes me think of cereal history. And you know, the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, now those were the heydays of breakfast cereal, hot and cold. I mean Quaker Oats showed up in 1877. Shredded Wheat came to the market in 1892. The Kelloggs brothers, they concocted Corn Flakes in 1907. Then there was the Reverend Sylvester Graham came up with Graham Flour which I know isn't a cereal. But a follower of his, a Doctor James Caleb Jackson, a Scot, uh, came up with a nutty, oaty little thing he called 'granula'. It was packed with oats then and it's still packed with oats today.

The Kitchen

    [voice over] Ah, granola. It's so easy I can't imagine anybody would buy it. How easy? Huh. Take a look at what goes into it. Let's see. It starts with 6 tablespoons of brown sugar, a cup of slivered almonds, three-quarters of a cup of shredded sweetened coconut, one cup of cashews, three-quarters of a teaspoon kosher salt, that's really just three nice big pinches. And of course oats, 3 cups of rolled oats. This is what they're really, really good for. Now make sure you toss this and get it combined very, very, very well before you add the wet works. There.

6 Tbls Brown Sugar
1 Cup Slivered Almonds
3/4 Cup Unsweetened
Coconut (sic)
1 Cup Cashews
3/4 tsp Kosher Salt
3  Cups Rolled Oats

    Now speaking of the wet works, we're talking about 6 tablespoons of maple syrup and a quarter of a cup of vegetable oil. There. Now mix to combine and move oven-ward. It doesn't have to be perfect ... not that there's anything wrong with perfect. Now on to a half-sheet pan or a cookie pan that has a nice lip on the side. Just pour it out nice and even into a single layer. We're going to stir this every 15 minutes during cooking. How long? Uh, about an hour and fifteen minutes. There. Oh, and turn your oven to 250 if you haven't already.

1/4 Cup Canola Oil
6 Tbls Maple Syrup

    Now just let this cool down for about half an hour and, uh, you can fold in any dried fruit that you like: raisins, cherries, cranberries, uh, it's really, really nice on yogurt or, uh, ice cream. Um, heck, I just like to eat it straight up like this.
    Well, uh, we hope that we've encouraged you to take a new bite out of an old friend, oats. The way we see it, it's just about the only food we know of that can keep you trim on the outside, all cleaned out on the inside and still tastes really great. As far as I'm concerned, that qualifies as Good Eats. See you next time.

Johnson's actual quote comes from his work "A Dictionary Of The English Language," 1755:
     OATS. n.s. [a_en, Saxon.] A grain, which in England is generally given to
     horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

The closest thing I can find on the internet are these two quotes:
     from The Encyclopedia of Country Living where Boswell replies, "Yes. Better
     men. Better horses."
     from ??? "Yes, but where does one find such horses, or such men?"

Proof Reading from Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010