I am a part of cultures which make solid breakfasts. For their first meal, Thai people often do reheated leftovers with hot rice; my mother once witnessed a Southern Thai friend of hers eat an incredibly hot curry (a regional speciality) from the previous evening before simply patting her lips and leaving for work. Some take cereal with milk, perhaps toast or croissants, maybe some fruit. Others still take hot Thai tea or coffee or milo with fried dough sticks, or rice congee, or omelettes with rice. These last three items in particular are breakfast-type foods but not strictly so; they are eaten at different meals, too. It all simply depends on what the breakfasters enjoy. We don’t all like the same things, obviously.
As for myself, I had things with rice when I was attending school: pork mince and chilli omelettes, pork bone and watercress soup, or fried fish. I have a soft spot for instant rice congee, which can be soothingly bland or hot enough to perk you up, depending on how you choose to season it at the table.
Porridge is pretty much the UK equivalent of rice congee, being a staple grain that is cooked to a comforting softness and eaten in a range of ways throughout the isles. Like many British schoolchildren, I had Ready Brek now and then, which is sweet sawdust mush, then I graduated to Quaker Oats (golden syrup!), and now I have come at last to jumbo rolled oats. This last seems to be more fragrant and have a more satisfying texture, even if it all ultimately is cooked down to a pap. The details make all the difference.
I only really like honey and milk with my porridge, sometimes a perfectly ripe banana. Recently I went to sample Green & Blacks’ new citrus flavoured chocolate at Spitalfields Old Market and, deciding to make the most of my eastern trip, was finally brave enough to go into not one but two wonderful shops, Verde and A. Gold. They’re right next door to each other and completely precious places – I’d recommend having a quick nose around, they’re gorgeous just to pass your eyes over. I am a bit of a Jeanette Winterson fan, not even going to lie, and the shop is an elegant dark space stacked with uncommon, delicious things. In the case of A. Gold, I was tempted by their sign indicating they sold London honey. In contrast to Verde’s it’s all bright with pale wood, a simulacrum of things appealingly old-fashioned that is in fact ever-so contemporary. I liked it. I was very tempted by everything; I smiled when I saw copies of Spitalfields Life–who in London doesn’t read the Gentle Author?–but I kept my focus and asked where the honey was.
I got a jar of 2013 spring/summer London Fields honey as a treat, rather more than I’d ordinarily spend on honey, but it helps keep certain foods interesting and my wallet happy to think of particular things as special. Linden honey from Norwich will always be special to me. This, too, is exceptional stuff. I felt very lucky to have any honey at all as, due to unfavourable weather, a third of all honeybee colonies in England did not survive this past winter.
There wasn’t any information about the type of honey it was, nothing of the blooms and blossoms that lent their sweetness to the bees, only the place and the date. London honey tends to be multifloral, light and delicate in early summer and becoming dark and rich as the season progresses. The jar I’ve got is strong, so thick, slowly-flowing, highly fragrant. Still in the process of developing my nose and palate, I cannot yet distinguish the dozens of notes that those who appreciate perfume and drink can reel off confidently, yet even I could distinctly taste lemon and cooling mint, burnt sugar and something almost savoury. It’s the sort of honey you particularly want to have over everything.
This includes, of course, my morning porridge. To return to the subject of porridge, I’d never before toasted the oats for porridge before and now, if I’ve the time, it’s something I want to do as it adds a deeply warm, nutty fragrance to the finished dish. I want cold creamy milk, too, and then that exceptional honey pooled on top. It’s the details, you know.
PORRIDGE WITH MILK AND HONEY
From Felicity Cloake.
Dispel any nose-wrinkling about slimy mush: this is thick and rich with toasted oats and milk. Of course, you should use whatever toppings you like. I’ve a mind to try it with palm sugar and banana. Do let your porridge sit as it’ll be the perfect temperature for eating and the flavours develop even more.
50g jumbo rolled oats
100ml full-fat milk
Fat pinch of salt
2 – 3 teaspoons honey, or more to taste
Splash of cold milk as liked
In a small, dry frying pan, toast the rolled oats over a medium-high heat until it is fragrant and nutty, perhaps turning gold in places.
Tumble the toasted oats into a small saucepan with the milk and water. Gradually bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then lower the heat and and cook for 5 minutes, still stirring. Stir in the salt. It should be quite thick and porridge-like at this point; taste to see if it’s cooked to your liking, if not then let it go on for longer, stirring all the while. (Mine was 8 minute porridge.)
When the porridge is done, clamp on a lid, turn off the heat and let the pan sit there for about 5 minutes. Scrape into your eating bowl, add your toppings, enjoy.