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Feeling One’s Oats - October 2016

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Feeling One’s Oats

by Ron Skaar

Hot cereals have been consumed since the dawn of civilization. Oat grains were found in Egypt amidst the ruins of the 12th Dynasty. The oldest known cultivated oats date back to the Bronze age, unearthed in Swiss caves.

The major Eurasian cereals, wheat, barley, rye and oats originally grew wild on the temperate high plains of the near east. Rye and oats were able to adapt to wet, cold climates about 12,000 years ago. Oats require more moisture than any of the other cereals except rice.

During Greek and Roman times oats were considered a weed. The grain gradually came under cultivation as a companion plant of wheat and barley. Oats have been cultivated since the 1st century A.D, mainly has animal fodder. 

By 1600 oats had become an important crop of the wetter climates in northern Europe.

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, published in 1785, describes oats has “a grain which in England is given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”.

Oats were brought to the New World by the first colonists and planted on islands in the Massachusetts Bay. As early as 1786 George Washington sowed 580 acres of oats. By the 1860’s the westward shift of oat acreage in the United States had moved into the middle and upper Mississippi Valley.

Near the end of the 19th century, a German immigrant developed quick cooking rolled oats for breakfast. Before long, Henry Crowell began packing rolled oats, along with their cooking instructions, labeling it “Pure” and naming them “Quaker Oats”.

The first stage in oat processing is a low-temperature “roasting” which enhances their flavor and shelf life. Steel-cut oats are whole kernels cut into two to four pieces for faster cooking. Rolled oats are steamed whole kernels pressed between rollers to make them thin and easier to reabsorb water during cooking. Thinner rolling produces the “quick-cooking” and “instant varieties”.

Nearly 95% of the oats grown today are still used for animal feed. Yet, oats are hard to beat for their nutritional impact. They are a prime source of the complex carbohydrates that help to sustain energy, along with impressive amounts of iron, thiamin and selenium.

Oats are rich in soluble fiber which helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies show oat fiber can also help control blood sugar and improve insulin sensibility, a boon to people with diabetes. Oats help to decrease high blood pressure and promote weight loss because they are digested slowly, leading to a gradual, steady supply of blood sugar while keeping hunger in check.

Oats absorb and hold water adding moisture and suppleness to baked goods. Finely grind them and substitute for one-forth of the flour in cookies or pie crusts. October 29th is National Oatmeal Day and the accompanying recipe is a healthy way to start any day.

Photo by Jon Russo


Oatmeal-Buttermilk Pancakes, 4 servings

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup rolled oats, not instant or quick cooking

2 eggs, separated

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, plus more for griddle and serving

Maple syrup and fresh berries for serving

 In a bowl, combine the buttermilk with the oats until very soft, at least 4 hours and up to 8. Mix in the egg yolks, flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and melted butter. Whip the egg whites and fold into the batter. Heat a griddle. Brush it with melted butter and ladle ¼ cup batter for each pancake, gently spreading into rounds. Cook over moderate heat until bubbles appear on surface. Flip and cook until undersides are done. Transfer to a warm plate and repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes with butter, maple syrup and berries