Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Family Breakfast

Oatmeal with dried cranberries, brown sugar, cream;
 butter-slathered toast from homemade whole-meal bread. 

"Would you eat oatmeal for breakfast?"
I turned from the bleak prospect of another grey and chilly morning unfolding beyond the kitchen window, feeling the need of hearty comfort food.
Jim, engrossed in a website catalog of vintage tractor specs, did not answer.
He has, over the past several years, expressed a dislike of oatmeal, his reasoning poised between, 
"I had to eat that for too many mornings growing up," to the more pejorative observation that oatmeal, at least as commonly prepared, resembles 'dog snot'--a substance surely seldom encountered at the table in real life.

Having fixed on oatmeal as a desirable breakfast and not wanting to reduce the amount to a single serving, I repeated my query.
Jim turned from his laptop, recited his findings regarding the horse power, model year and distinctive features of the Massey Ferguson tractor currently undergoing restoration in his shop.
As an after-thought he rather grudgingly agreed that he could eat oatmeal this morning if it
 wasn't 'sticky.'

As I measured water, waited for it to boil, added rolled oats and stirred, sliced homemade bread for the toaster, I pondered the family breakfasts of former decades.

My nature, like that of my late father, has always been decidedly nocturnal.
I've no wish to lie abed late in the morning, but the necessity of early rising when accompanied by a requirement to be properly dressed and in my right mind, to say nothing of eating an early breakfast, is challenging.
From junior high through high school I had a long commute, so such breakfast as I could manage was swallowed with one eye on the clock.

Mother did her conscientious best. By the time we children straggled downstairs she had already overseen Daddy's breakfast, the preparation of his lunch box and the fixing of a tall
 thermos of coffee.
In winter Daddy liked oatmeal, slow-cooked all night in a double-boiler pushed to the back burner of the kerosene cook stove.
In summer he consumed a large bowl of 'puffed wheat' or corn flakes, munched his two slices of toasted white bread, while staring morosely out the west-facing window of our tiny kitchen.
 It was not the thing to attempt conversation at such an hour.

Children's breakfast in winter was more oatmeal, varied by'Maltex' [dark and gritty] or an innovative hot cereal particular to Vermont, called 'Maypo' [finely cut oatmeal flavored with maple syrup.]
I remember 'Bluebird Orange Juice'--tasting rankly of the tin container after a day or so in the fridge-- later supplanted by a powdered orange drink called 'Tang.'
Hot cocoa [not a good chaser for orange juice] and toast rounded out the weekday morning meal.

During my own children's school days, I urged a hearty breakfast.
By then there were more options.  Hot oatmeal was often replaced by home made granola sweetened with honey or maple syrup, invitingly loaded with dried fruit, toasted coconut, chopped walnuts or slivered almonds. Home-canned fruit, good homemade bread, toasted or plain, was offered with the option of jam, peanut butter, or honey. 

Son Howard dutifully consumed whatever was set out.

Daughter Gina, gifted with a dramatically obstinate nature, found breakfast a pure misery, and managed to convey her distaste to anyone in the room.
A meager spoonful of cereal wincingly inserted into her mouth, was rolled about, finally swallowed with an audible gulp or [too often] spat back into the bowl with the threat,
 "That stuff will make me puke!"
I recognize, belatedly, that it would have made more sense to send her off with an apple or a granola bar to be consumed at morning break, but the rigid structure of school rules at the time didn't cater to individual preferences. 
Years later with the children grown and Jim often away for days or weeks at a time my breakfast preferences changed. While the kettle boiled for tea I rummaged the fridge for leftover soup or casserole, toasted an English muffin to spread with cream cheese.

Retirement in Kentucky finds us with a relaxed attitude toward breakfast. It is rare that we consume more than 2 meals per day. 
Breakfast is a movable, usually mid-morning affair--depending on weather, season, plans for the day.
We don't always choose the same components.  I may prefer yogurt and fruit, having started the morning much earlier with my one cup of coffee and a cookie! 
Often Jim has worked for several hours in the shop before coming in to suggest that we have waffles with maple syrup and a fruit sauce made from berries stashed in the freezer.  Sometimes we have turkey bacon with scrambled or poached eggs. Occasionally breakfast becomes the main meal with potato and veggies.
Jim may stodge up a helping of cornmeal mush or cream of wheat liberally laced with maple syrup and dollops of butter, an offering which I politely refuse.
I may be inspired to bake blueberry muffins to share with our neighbors or to create an omelette loaded with chopped onion, sweet peppers and shredded cheese.
In season we glory in fresh cantaloupe, strawberries. 

I recall sometimes in wonderment the breakfast consumed daily by Grandpa Mac.
He appeared in the farmhouse dining room at 7:30 each morning, having milked and fed the dairy herd and tended to various 'chores.'
He waded through oatmeal, followed by a platter of eggs with a side of bacon or ham, progressed to  a succession of sourdough pancakes liberally buttered and swimming in maple syrup, the lot washed down with several cups of milky coffee. 
When this hearty fare had been stowed, he set his plate on the floor to be polished by the faithful collie who had waited, paws folded, a respectful distance from his chair.

I'm told that today's children are served breakfast at school or daycare. 
Commuters swill coffee from styrofoam containers thrust at them through a drive-up window, nibble at a sticky pastry while maneuvering through traffic.
Breakfast, as my generation knew it, has become something of a Sunday treat, perhaps the one morning meal of the week to be anticipated and enjoyed at relative leisure.

Jim and I continue to appreciate breakfast as a meal which varies in both menu and hour--one of the pleasant choices of retirement.


  1. My husband's grandmother was an old southern lady and she served fried chicken or catfish, eggs, biscuits or hashbrowns at every breakfast. I can't imagine getting up early enough to fry chicken for breakfast! My mother served a lot of rice cooked in milk with cinnamon and brown sugar for breakfast. Back in the day when elderly people got commodities instead of food stamps, they got a lot of rice, which they traded her for hair cuts. We ate a lot of rice in those days! I love a good meal of oatmeal, as Jim said, as long as it isn't "sticky".


  2. Jane; I love the description of southern breakfasts. I have read of just such a breakfast in "Miss Wille" the book by Janice Holt Giles that introduced me to Adair County, KY.
    Like you, I can't imagine frying chicken in time for an early meal--and wonder, a bit squeamishly, if grandma had wrung the neck of said bird the night before.
    Cooked rice with milk, raisins and brown sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, is another option we enjoy.

  3. We've never been breakfast people in the morning, but love it for supper! I enjoy Janice Holt Giles' books, though I haven't read many of them. I think my favorite is Hannah Fowler.

  4. Jan; Especially in winter we sometimes have breakfast for supper.
    We now live a few miles from the Janice and Henry Giles homestead which is a museum. I encountered her books many years ago as offerings from Farm Journal Family Bookshelf.
    I too, enjoyed "Hannah Fowler."
    "Janice Holt Giles--A Writer's Life' by Dianne Watkins Stuart is good reading as is Janice's autobiographical work, "The Kinta Years." Her husband, Henry Giles had a reputation as a bit of a character--a small cabin near the museum/house was Henry's retreat of choice when he had aggravated Janice to the point where she lost patience with him!

  5. To me, breakfast is a necessity to give me energy for the start of the day. Cereal with dried fruit and Greek plain yogurt and coconut milk, or grits and eggs with toast or bread, sometimes and omelet, or french toast. It just depends on how I'm feeling. :-)

    Happy Valentine's day dear Sharon ~ FlowerLady

    1. Rainey; I don't get very far into my day without something for breakfast. We've recently been enjoying "Noosa" brand yogurt. I dump it onto a bowlful of Rice Cripies and add a bit of milk, a banana if there's one on hand.

  6. Loved your post today. I'm not now, nor was I ever a morning person and quite frankly never liked the smell of food first thing in the morning. As a teenager I had tea and toast and as an adult I have coffee and homemade toast.
    I always fixed breakfast for my daughter, eggs or French toast or pancakes or oats, but I never stayed in the room while she ate. Didn't like the smell. Same goes for my husband. When he was in the Army I fixed him a breakfast, but now it's coffee and toast for him too.
    We eat a late lunch and that's our main meal of the day. We snack at night.

  7. Janet; I find it interesting that as I talk with people who have retired. many of us have changed our eating schedule and no longer have a main meal in the evening.
    I like to get up quietly in the morning, tend to the cats, check email and Face Book--putter for a bit before I get serious about my day.

  8. Just wanted to say I recently discovered your blog and I love it! So homey and interesting! Am going back and reading back posts.

    1. Sue; Thank you for letting me know that you are reading and enjoying. My blog is truly a 'rag bag' of memories and current happenings in my country setting.