Good stuff, Maynard

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Amanda Miller
Columnist
Lettuce Eat Local

Some of you might get that reference immediately, while the rest of you have no idea what I’m doing. Our household is young enough that we wouldn’t quite as naturally spout off that tagline from a 1983 Malt-O-Meal commercial, yet you’ll hear it rolling off Brian’s and my tongues like cream of wheat off a spoon. Benson has even been heard saying it to himself in his silly little voice. Although I’m not sure of the conversation context, I first learned about this Maynard from a group of ladies in one of my cooking classes; their age demographic is above mine by a good margin, so they were all in the know while I had to be educated. 

Since then, I’ve educated several others with an easy-to-reference YouTube clip of the breakfast bear. It gets me every time — I don’t know if it’s the haircuts, the speaking patterns, or the dry humor, but I know it’s not the product advertised.

I know lots of people are fans of Malt-O-Meal. Or rather, I assume there are at least enough people that purchase this kind of product to keep it on the market since its invention in 1919. Cooked milled wheat middlings had been served as a breakfast porridge for at least a couple decades before then; Cream of Wheat debuted in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Cream of Wheat was a marketing innovation in response to a reduced demand for flour, and it was clearly met with more accolade than I give it: the initial product testers telegrammed back, “Forget the flour. Send us a car of Cream of Wheat.”

Before this article, I thought those two products were the same thing under different brand names, but Malt-O-Meal added malted barley to a slightly coarser ground wheat than the smoother, “creamier”-cooking Cream of Wheat. Farina is the general term for this particular style of ground wheat kernels, that falls somewhere on the spectrum between cracked wheat berries and flour; think grits made from wheat instead of corn. 

I’m obviously not a major connoisseur of the porridge. I’ve had one or the other before, but I’m generationally biased against it; my parents tell of their season as recently-married poor young college students when Cream of Wheat was their breakfast staple for far too many mornings. My mom got desperate enough for some variety in their budget breakfast that she tried adding food coloring — it seems it didn’t help matters much. 

On the other hand, my mother-in-law has instant Cream of Wheat for breakfast often, as a perfect easy breakfast after finishing the early morning milking. (She makes it with milk, of course, and tops it with a little brown sugar.)

All I can say for farina porridge is that it’s a good blank canvas for adding flavors, whether the pre-added packaged varieties or your own in-home additions. But God made oatmeal for a reason, so if I want a hot breakfast porridge, and one that has better taste, texture, and nutrition, oatmeal is where I’m headed. 

All that said, we did just have wheat harvest. And if there ever was a time to try making my own cream of wheat, it’s when I have a bucket of fresh-from-our-field wheat berries sitting in my kitchen…i.e., now. 

And you know, it wasn’t bad. It’s not going to become a staple, but I surprised myself with how enthusiastically I kept going in for another bite. I can truthfully say, “Good stuff, Maynard.”

 

Homemade Malt of Wheat

I wanted the creaminess of Cream of Wheat and the malt of Malt-O-Meal, so good news, I can do both. This breakfast isn’t quite as quick as the minute or two in the microwave the instant varieties require, yet it’s still fast and easy, and a good bit more nutritious since this uses the whole wheat berry instead of degermed. My Vitamix high-powered blender can do a whole range of different grind textures, and you should be able to find something that gets a coarse grind for you (try a food processor or coffee grinder if you don’t have a blender). 

Prep tips: if a bucket of fresh wheat didn’t appear in your house, you can find wheat berries at Glenn’s Bulk Food, another bulk food store, or sometimes even a “regular” grocery.

½ cup wheat kernels, ground to a medium-fine texture

2 cups milk 

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons browned butter 

2 tablespoons malted milk powder

sweetener and/or toppings of choice

Add wheat, milk, and salt to a saucepan, and simmer over medium-high heat until thickened, 5-10 minutes depending on the grind. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and malted milk, as well as honey/maple syrup/brown sugar/whatever you want. Top with toasted nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, bananas, again whatever you want — or really just another pat of butter. 

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