What is it about oats that makes them such a wonder food, if I don’t have my bowl of porridge for breakfast in winter or fruit muesli in Summer – I seem to get a craving for something snacky and sweet around 11:30am in the morning. All my grandchildren love porridge, Joshua and Lucca eat it with peanut butter, sounds like an odd combination but they polish off a big bowl of it every morning. The girls prefer brown sugar and creamy milk.

At the Mahon Point Farmers Market people queue for Arun Kapil’s porridge with spiced apricots and prunes on top. Others favour honey and cream – I am a big fan of pinhead oat meal. It cooks slowly overnight in the bottom of the Aga. Guests at Ballymaloe House go crazy for a bowl of Macroom Oatmeal which Donal Creegan stone grinds in the time honoured way in the last stone grinding mill in Ireland -wonderful stuff. Also wonderful and a more widely available product is Flahavans oatmeal from Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford
This exemplary family run business now in its sixth generation has been operating for over 200 years. Flavahans burn the by-product of the oat to power the boiler which generates steam for the cooking process. Electricity is also generated from the original mill stream alongside the mill on the River Mahon. The company also funds the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

Flahavans have won several awards including the 2008 SIAL D’or, international food competition, and in 2007 the Euro Toque award and the Bord Bia Food and Drink Industry award for their quick oats range. They also won an environmental award for their organic packaging range. 

The Flahavan family have had a strong environmental conscience long before it became fashionable to be green. They source as much of their raw material as possible locally in Ireland but John Flahavan is always interested to hear from more Irish farmers who would like to grow oats for Flahavan’s mill. At present the demand outstrips the supply and they have to supplement with imported Polish oats but would far prefer to use all home grown grains.


Blackberry, Strawberry, Raspberry or Apple Muesli

Serves 4
4 ozs (110g) fresh or frozen strawberries, raspberries, loganberries or grated dessert apple (preferably Worcester Permain or Cox’s Orange Pippin)
3 heaped tablespoons rolled oatmeal (Flahavans Oats)
6 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon approx. honey

Soak the oatmeal in the water for 10 or 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the strawberries roughly with a fork and mix with the oatmeal. Sweeten to taste with honey, a scant teaspoon is usually enough but it depends on how sweet the strawberries are.
Serve with cream and soft brown sugar.

This fruit muesli is served for breakfast right through the year at Ballymaloe, the fruit varies with the season.
 Blackberry and Apple Muesli
A few blackberries are delicious added to the apple muesli in Autumn.

Pinhead Oatmeal Porridge

Pinhead oatmeal or steel cut oats is quite simply a feast and a perfect GI breakfast. We eat it with rich creamy organic milk from our Jersey cows and soft brown sugar – sublime.

 Serves 8

4oz dried apricots
4oz prunes
1 tablespoon honey
310g (11oz) pinhead oatmeal
950ml (32fl oz) water
1/2 teaspoon salt

The night before, soak the oatmeal in 225ml (8fl oz) cold water. Soak the dried fruit in cold water over night. Next day put into a saucepan, add the honey, cinnamon, cloves and cook until plump. Serve a generous spoonful off the top of the porridge.

On the day, bring 725ml (24fl oz) water to the boil and add to the oatmeal. Put on a low heat and stir until the water comes to the boil.  Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the salt. Cover again and leave aside overnight, the oatmeal will absorb all the water.

Next day, reheat adding a little more water if necessary; serve with cream or rich milk and soft brown sugar.

Good things to serve with porridge. Dark brown sugar and cream. Apple and sweet geranium compote (see recipe)

Compote of Blackberry and Apples with Sweet Geranium Leaves

A delicious Autumn dessert, or use frozen blackberries at this time of the year.

Serves 3 approx.

225g (8 ozs) sugar
450ml (16fl ozs) water
4 large dessert apples eg. Worcester Permain or Coxes Orange Pippen
275g (10 ozs) blackberries, fresh or frozen
8 large sweet geranium leaves (Pelagonium Graveolens)

Put the sugar, cold water and sweet geranium leaves into a saucepan, bring to the boil for 1-2 minutes. Peel the apples thinly with a peeler, keeping a good round shape. Quarter them, remove the core and trim the ends. Cut into segments 5mm (1/4inch) thick. Add to the syrup. Poach until translucent but not broken. Cover with a paper lid and lid of the saucepan.

Just 3-5 minutes before they have finished cooking, add the blackberries, simmer together so that they are both cooked at once.

Serve chilled, with little shortbread biscuits.

Compote of Cranberry and Apple
Substitute 1 cup of cranberries for blackberries in the above recipe.

One of the quickest, easiest and most nutritious of all biscuits to make. They keep very well in a tin.  Children love to munch them with a banana. Don’t compromise – use butter, because the flavour is immeasurably better.  The crunchy crumbs are delicious sprinkled over cold apple purée.  Dip one corner into melted chocolate for a treat.

Makes 24-32

12 ozs (340g) butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
1 lb (450g) rolled oatmeal (porridge oats)

Swiss roll tin, 10 inches (25.5cm) x 15 inches (38cm)

Preheat the oven to180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.

Melt the butter in a deep saucepan; add the golden syrup and pure vanilla extract. Remove from the heat. Stir in the castor sugar and oatmeal and mix well. Spread evenly in a large Swiss roll tin. Bake in a preheated until golden and slightly caramelised – about 30 minutes. Cut into 24-32 squares while still warm.

Make half the recipe if a 9 inch (23cm) x 13 inch (33cm) Swiss roll thin is used.

A toasted grain cereal.
 Serves 20

12 ozs (350g) honey
8 fl ozs (225g) oil eg. sunflower or arachide
 1 lb 1 oz (370g) oat flakes
7 ozs (200g) barley flakes
7 ozs (200g) wheat flakes
3 1/2 ozs (100g) rye flakes

5 ozs (150g) seedless raisins or sultanas
5 ozs (150g) peanuts/hazelnuts, or cashew nuts split and roasted
2 3/4 ozs (70g) wheatgerm and /or millet flakes
2 ozs (50g) chopped apricots, 1/2 cup chopped dates etc. are nice too
Toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds are also a delicious addition
 Mix oil and honey together in a saucepan, heat just enough to melt the honey.  Mix well into the mixed flakes. Spread thinly on two baking sheets.

Bake in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently, making sure the edges don’t burn. It should be just golden and toasted, not roasted!
 Allow to get cold.  Mix in the raisins or sultanas, roasted nuts, toasted seeds, chopped dates, apricots and wheatgerm.  Store in a screw top jar or a plastic box, keeps for 1-2 weeks.

Serve with sliced banana and yoghurt.

Fool Proof Food
 To follow your bowl of yummy porridge for breakfast, try these delicious spicy eggs.

Mexican Scrambled eggs – Huevos a la Mexicana
 8 large free range organic eggs
1 ½ oz (45g) butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-3 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (the amount depends on how much excitement you would like in your life!)
1 very ripe tomato, chopped
½ tspn salt

Serves 4
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, cook the onion and chillies until the onion is soft but not coloured, add the tomato and cook gently for a few more minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and salt well; add them to the saucepan and scramble, stirring all the time until cooked to your taste. Serve immediately on warm plates.
 Thrifty Tip

Get the family involved in the cooking, maybe plan the weeks menus with everyone’s input. Allocate a budget per meal and chefs specials. This could be an eye opener to family members who think money grows on trees and will have the knock on effect of teaching budgeting skills.
 Hot Tips

Grow your own Vegetables
 Experienced growers Caroline Robinson and Rupert Hugh-Jones will talk about starting a garden, preparing the soil, making compost, sowing seeds, caring for plants and getting the most from polytunnels

Crawford Art Gallery Café Thursday 26th February at 7.30pm, entrance €6.00 including tea or coffee.

Organic Vegetables and Fruit Growing Course
 Practical FETAC certificated course on growing and producing organic vegetables and fruit. Beginning Tuesday 24 February and running Tuesdays fortnightly for 10 days 10.00am – 5.00pm. Cost:   €350 for 10 days (includes lunch). Nano Nagle Centre, Ballygriffin, Mallow.
Course Tutor:  Jason Horner, experienced grower from Co Clare. Jason has been selling his own organic produce and eggs at a Farmer’s Market for the last 16 years.
The course is suitable for people with a view to growing on a commercial basis.
Places are limited so please book early. Contact Nano Nagle Centre:  022 26411

Living Willow Tunnel
 Create A Living Willow Tunnel, Nano Nagle Centre, Saturday, March 7th – 10.00am – 4.00pm €75 (includes lunch, tea, coffee and materials (willow available to bring home )

You will learn how to build a basic living structure with willow sculptress, Angela Nolan and in the process find out everything you ever wanted to know about willow:  growing, weaving and maintenance. Contact Nano Nagle Centre:  022 26411


About the author

Darina Allen


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