SOME topics open the floodgates of memory wider than do others, and the subject of overnight oatmeal is again on the agenda. Oatmeal proved to be a dam-buster. One letter in particular is from Douglas Kerr, who sends four pages of hand-written enthusiasm for ``brose'' - short, he surmises, for ambrosia. He explains it is the porridge peculiar to Aberdonians, and one his grandfather elevated into heavenly standing by repeated example - Mr. Kerr's letter tells how the old gentleman lapped the stuff with such gustatory enthusiasm that Mr. Kerr thinks to this day it was good. I doubt if any other department of this newspaper is about to print the recipe for brose, but Mr. Kerr and I believe it should be on record.
It is breakfast time (he writes). Mr. Kerr and his grandfather take their places at the table. Before each are two bowls. (In my family we used soup plates, which is not to dispute the matter but to indicate the dishes are substantially adequate.) In one of the bowls will be cold cow's milk, recently acquired from the source and creamy. Into the other bowl before him each participant now dips two or three, or more, tablespoons of finely ground oatmeal - which dates the action as long ago.
Just for fun, try rolled oats, but they are not ``just as good.'' Perhaps you can hash rolled oats in a blender and fool yourself. Sprinkle a pinch or two of salt, add a dab of butter. Next, the communicant will reverse his tablespoon and stir the mixture.
This agitation takes a bit of time, so there is opportunity for remarks about the weather, how everybody slept, what is planned for forenoon, and if things like the Crimean War will do any good. When conversation lags and the oatmeal is stirred rightly, the mixture gets its only cooking - boiling water is added to a sufficiency, and as it is poured the handles of the stirring spoons keep going. When something like wallpaper paste is achieved (says Mr. Kerr) molasses is added. Now the eating begins.
A spoonful of the oats, etc., will be dipped into the bowl of cold milk before being delivered to the mouth. From the boiling water the oats will be warm, and the milk is cold. This makes what Mr. Kerr considers a happy moment for the taste buds.
In our family the brose was unknown as such, but we had much the same ritualistic approach to our morning porridge. Grandmother and Mother used real oatmeal so long as it could be had, but there came a day my mother apologetically began using rolled oats. Even with rolled oats the porridge was ``overnight,'' but it didn't get steady cooking all that time. It would be started in a double boiler on the residual kitchen range after supper, but after a bedtime stir it would get pushed to the back of the stove. In winter when a fire was kept all night, it would mull along, but in summer the stove would cool. First one up in the morning would open a damper or kindle a fire, and push the double boiler forward. By breakfast time the oatmeal would be ready.
Fast food didn't exist then. Our table manners called for leisurely ingestion, and we didn't bolt and wolf our food. We had an aunt who came occasionally and she tried to get us youngsters to count the number of times we chewed each mouthful. I think she said 50 times was about right, and to please her we'd sit and chew, and chew, and she'd beam with the satisfaction of leading us in the proper way. But my grandfather undid all that good the moment he got his soup plate of breakfast oatmeal. He'd look at me with his spoon poised and he'd say, ``I can beat you!'' We'd race, and during the competition I hardly noticed what the stuff tasted like. I never beat him.
Grandfather was not an Aberdonian, so he used three dishes. The soup plate was well filled with cooked oatmeal, and salt and butter had been added in the pot. Then he had two ironstone china mugs - one with sweet cream fresh from the separator and the other with dark West Indies molasses. The cows were milked before breakfast, and the milk separated at once, so this cream was new to everybody. A spoonful of oatmeal was dipped in the molasses, dipped in the cream, and then disposed of in the usual manner.
Mr. Kerr makes a footnote to his letter: ``One of my biggest beefs today is the exorbitant price we have to pay for dry cereal.''
After Grandfather and I had taken care of our morning oatmeal, Grandmother would serve the ham and eggs, fried potatoes and a turnip patty, griddle cakes, and other supportive provender. Never toast, but homemade bread and butter of the house, and strawberry jam or marmalade, and in season rhubarb sauce made with maple syrup. Then pie.
As I recall, it was strenuous to be saddled with certain Scottish traditions.