~ Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
He is right. I have always felt breakfast to be the best meal of the day, or at least I have since I discovered porridge. Although, really, it is odd that I even like porridge. Given that I hate milk and yoghurt and anything with a sort of unchewable consistency, porridge should really be something that I loathe and detest. However, it is something I would happily eat at every meal and look forward to every morning.
Admittedly, the idea of plain porridge with no adornment does make me feel a bit sad. My approach is to cram it full of lovely sugary (but in a good way) things so you end up with a bowl of something that feels more like a dessert than breakfast, but is still infinitely better for you than eating hideous processed cereal. I make it with half water and half milk, mainly because I can never be bothered to buy milk often enough to use entirely milk, and because it's less like having a lead brick in your stomach that way. I don't really measure anything, just sort of guess, and if it still looks a bit grainy add some more milk. There's something rather therapeutic about standing at the hob absent-mindedly stirring a steaming bowl of porridge, especially on a grey rainy day like today. It's the same calmness you get from stirring a risotto. I still eat it in the height of summer - it's filling, delicious and means you're not hungry until lunchtime.
So, some good porridge recipes. Firstly, pear and nutmeg. Grate massive amounts of nutmeg into the oats when you add the milk/water. Add a handful of sultanas. Cook the porridge, then cover with chopped ripe pear and lots of honey, and maybe some flaked almonds if you can be bothered.
Or, get some plums. This is a good one for underripe plums that you have a sneaking suspicion will never ripen enough to be nice to eat. Halve the plums and put in a baking dish. Sprinkle with rosewater, honey and a little bit of water (and maybe some brown sugar), cover with foil and bake at 170C for half an hour or so. You should have lots of crimson, rose-scented juice left in the dish to drizzle over the porridge. Another good plum recipe is to make a compote by quartering plums, putting in a pan with some orange juice and zest, a star anise, some cloves and a cinnamon stick. Simmer for 15 mins or so until the plums are soft, juicy and fragrant. Delicious.
Poached rhubarb: bake sticks of rhubarb in the oven with the juice of an orange, some orange zest and some sugar, until soft. This goes well with porridge into which you've stirred cinnamon and dried cranberries.
Banana and blueberry: good for using up overripe bananas. Cook the porridge with some cinnamon and maybe some chopped dried apricots. When it is nearly cooked, add a sliced banana. In a separate pan, heat a handful of blueberries with a drop of water until they burst and turn all juicy. Pour over the porridge.
Winter fruit compote: good for when there's not very much fresh fruit around. Put some halved dried apricots, prunes and figs in a pan with some sultanas, orange juice and zest, a star anise and a clove or two. Simmer for half an hour to an hour until the fruit is soft - you may have to keep adding more liquid as you want some nice syrupy juice left over to pour onto the porridge. This is even better if you add an orange, cut into segments. It's good in winter when the blood oranges start appearing.
Finally, my favourite at the moment: apricots (see the first photo of the post). A real treat when fresh apricots come into season round about now. I find them quite bland when eaten raw - sort of like poor impostors for peaches - but when cooked in this way they become something a little bit magical. Halve them, put in a baking dish and sprinkle with honey and orange flower water. Add some water, cover with foil and bake for 30-40 mins at 170C until soft and you have some nice syrup in the dish. Alternatively, halve and put in a pan with some water, orange flower water and honey and simmer until soft - this takes less time. Serve with porridge into which you've put sultanas, chopped dates and lots of cinnamon. Truly delicious.