Oatmeal has been our breakfast of choice recently. We stir one cup of organic rolled oats into two or more cups of boiling water, turn it down and let it cook slowly, partially covered for about five minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the oats become soft. Then we let it sit covered for a few minutes before serving. Fruit adds a wonderful flavor. In the summer we top our oatmeal with raspberries or peach slices. This time of year apples are particularly nice. In the winter, we cook the oatmeal with raisins, or our newest discovery, dried, unsulfured apricots, cut up into the pan just after adding the oats. What a great flavor. Some folks might use bananas, but once we became aware of the ecological and social destruction caused by banana plantations in the tropics, we stopped buying them.
Sensualists that we are, we add a little heavy cream, maple syrup and fresh grated nutmeg when we serve the oatmeal. More prudent folks might want to substitute milk or apple cider for the cream, but we use butter if cream isn't available. We feel we can get away with this since it's frequently the only animal fat we eat all day. How delicious, and all the important ingredients can be grown locally. Maple syrup and cream are two of our region's great under-appreciated resources. Some friends even produced a crop of oats in their New Haven backyard.
One of the most beautiful garden sights I've seen was the cover crop experiment at Bloomingfields Farm in Sherman, which included a plot of oats nearing fullness. A light-greenish-blue, the densely planted oats, about two feet tall, moved gracefully together in response to every breeze.
Oats, scientifically named Avena sativa, are a grass and are relatively easy to grow. In the past, they were a very common crop when they provided fuel for a horse-based economy. They now are frequently used as a cover crop to hold the soil over the winter, or as a catch crop to prevent the growth of weeds until something else is planted. Turned into the soil oat plants build fertility.
Oats are harder to hull than other grains, and are therefore less suitable for home production. However, there are several hulless varieties which may be worth planting.
For medicinal use the hulls don't matter. Oat straw tea made from the dried leaves, stems and seeds, has a powerful reputation in the "Wise Woman" tradition of healing. The tea is reputed to be very useful for females of all ages. According to Susun Weed, author of Wise Woman Ways, this simple and delicious herb tea may help build strong bones, stabilize blood sugar levels, relieve depression and emotional uproar, improve circulatory functioning, reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, nourish strong nerves, reduce headaches and maintain restful sleep patterns. Wow! All of this, of course, is likely to be most effective when combined with other basics of good health-a balanced low-fat diet, exercise and sufficient rest. Many of the benefits of oat-straw tea are also provided by a bowl of oatmeal, which has valuable fiber, too.
Because oats are so easy to grow, if you are interested in this tea, you might want to sow a few oats yourself.
I mentioned earlier that we use organic rolled oats for our oatmeal. (The rolling facilitates quicker cooking. Rolled oats often have been steamed before rolling and/or toasted for a nutty flavor.)
The party line in American agriculture is that organic food is expensive. And indeed, at the natural food store where we shop, buying organic oats adds four cents per serving, so each bowl costs 12 cents instead of eight cents. We are willing to pay four cents more for each bowl to support organic farmers and their stewardship of the Earth. The organic oats there are still much cheaper, however, than the brand-name packaged rolled oats in the supermarket And, the same weight of oats made into those heavily-advertised, little round O's in a box, costs about 60, five times as much as organic rolled oats. Industrial processing and modern marketing are clearly expensive.
Oats are a very useful crop on the farm. Oatmeal, especially organic oatmeal is healthful, tastes great, and is reasonably priced.
Now you know why your mother told you to "Eat your oatmeal!"
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
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