Considering that it’s morning right now, I’ve got to raise my hand.?♀️ While it’s rare I actually eat in the AM anymore, breakfast has always been my favorite meal. I don’t know if it’s because I just love the typical American carb+sugar foods eaten in the morning (toast and jam forever, baby) or because I’m usually super hungry, often chilled, and that first meal is such a welcome relief.
But that’s just me. It’s not the same for everybody, and it’s not even the same in every culture. While we’re used to things like pancakes and syrup, doughnuts and coffee, eggs and sausage and bacon (sometimes pumpkin pie or even cake . . . ?), other cultures break their fasts with more savory, and sometimes more simple, foods. I’ve been known to eat leftover soup – with eggs! – for breakfast and been called weird, but depending on where you are, that’s not so unusual.
Which, OF COURSE, got me thinking about my book. What about in Phen? What’s the cultural custom for breakfast where my characters live? With what do they start their day? And then, how does that differ between civilian and military life, since most of the story takes place in a military setting?
I knew I wasn’t going with a stereotypical American menu, largely because it doesn’t fit with the style of cuisine I wanted. Things like processed sugar, AP flour, and pork either don’t exist or aren’t common enough to be a staple food. Have you ever tried making a loaf of bread with fresh milled flour first thing in the morning in time for breakfast? With sourdough starter because convenient packets of active dry yeast weren’t invented until WWII (for the military. Fascinating bit of history.)?
Neither have I.
So my mind went to things like flatbreads. Eggs (baked, boiled, stewed, poached, fried – really, the only wrong way to eat an egg is cold). Cheeses. Fresh fruits. Lightly cooked vegetables. LEFTOVERS. Without the modern magic of refrigerators or even ice boxes, the best way to keep your unfinished dinner from rotting is to eat it for breakfast!
Civilian practices aside, the biggest question I had was how to feed vast quantities of people, say, on a military base. Or out on the field. You’d want something simple and hearty, no? Nutritious. That stick-to-the-ribs kind of goodness that’d fuel a day packed with energy burning physical and mental activity.
Oatmeal was my first thought, too. But oats grow best in cooler, wetter climates (like where I live. I wish we’d grow more oats around here than all this stupid corn and soybeans – but that’s a topic for a different discussion?). Phen’s climate is hotter and drier during the growing season, not ideal for oats. But grains like buckwheat and barley and rye?
Turns out you can prepare buckwheat and barley much the same as oats, making a sloupy porridge with virtually limitless possibilities. For simplicity’s sake, I chose to stick with buckwheat groats. Mostly because I already have some on hand and didn’t feel like looking around for whole barley? Besides, buckwheat is COOL and has a really fun shape and soft/chewy texture when cooked. It also doesn’t take as long to cook as barley. Which is a plus.
If you want to go basic, you can just cook the grains in water and add salt for flavor (otherwise it tastes like paste – and not the tooth kind). If you want to be a bit more adventurous, use milk or – a personal favorite – apple cider. You can mix in spices, nuts and/or fruits, and sweeteners of choice. (Apple cider makes it super sweet on its own, by the way.) The consistency is more akin to a steel-cut oatmeal than the rolled kind, and the flavor is different, too. Mild. Kinda nutty. Fantastic with pure maple syrup. Super good with raisins.
And HEARTY. I made some the other morning and it kept me sated all day till supper. This simple, easy, wholesome dish fulfills everything I was looking for and then some. Double score!
With a bowl of buckwheat porridge and mug of hot chymms to go alongside, maybe a boiled egg or two, you’ve got a Phennish start to a great day?