It Ain’t Always What It Seems

Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But not always. Maybe she’d never seen a Rose of Sharon bush, which is not a rose at all. Several plants have been called, “Rose of Sharon.” 

Pretty, but not a rose. Hibiscus has also been called, “Rose of Sharon.”

Misleading names are common to many things, including food.

Most of us know that french fries are not really from France.

I’d like some french fries right now.

And that there is no ham in hamburgers.

But how many folks know that “Rocky Mountain oysters” are not seafood? They’re actually the testicles of a bull. Yes, people cook and eat them.

Once, in my younger years, I made a dish called “Welsh rabbit.” No bunnies were sacrificed. The variation I made was a cheese sauce seasoned with mustard and served over toast. The name is probably a derogatory implication that the Welsh are too poor to be able to afford to cook a real rabbit. The name seems to imply that they’re also too poor to buy a gun to shoot rabbits and not smart enough to make a snare to catch them. In the term “Welsh rarebit” the latter word is a corruption of rabbit.

Variations of this dish are called Scotch rabbit and English rabbit. They all sound like grilled cheese sandwiches to me.

Another food with a deceptive name that I once made is steamed pudding. It’s not the creamy, custardy dessert that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more like a very moist, delicious cake. 

Steamed pudding, all dressed up for Christmas.

So what’s with all this writing about things that aren’t what they seem? Because a few Latvians are still arguing about the proper meaning of ķūķu or is the word ķūči? Or is it the same word declined?

Some people insist that the dish is a porridge. One source I found said that ķūčis (singular) is a dish made of grain, without defining it further. Cakes are made of grain. Yet another source claimed that ķūčis is a dish made with pig’s ears. So which is it? Go figure.  

Latvians make a dessert called “debessmana,” mana from heaven. It’s made out of farina, which is a form of milled wheat, You whip the heck out of it as it’s cooking until it turns into a fluffy, mousse-like substance that’s served with milk. No one that I know of calls it porridge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t call it porridge.

Gruel is the name for a thin porridge made of oatmeal or other meal. So confusing. 

Turns out that ķūķu cliffs are an outcrop of Devonian rocks on the banks of the Gauja River in the Cēsis district of Latvia.

It’s been fun researching this information and learning something while I’m at it.

The Great Oatmeal Debate

The Latvian vs the American Way, vs?

Some call it porridge, some call it gruel, some call it blah.

Until I stayed with relatives, I thought there was only one way to eat oatmeal: cooked in water, served with milk and sugar, maybe with sliced bananas on top. At the rellies house, we mostly had the usual things for breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes that sort of thing. But one morning my aunt cooked oatmeal. I stared in amazement as my uncle started eating his portion without pouring milk on top. He stared in amazement as I poured milk on my porridge. It was a long time before I tried eating oatmeal without milk.

Sometimes I really hate grocery shopping. I won’t go to the supermarket until my cupboards are almost in Mother Hubbard territory. Of course, my stomach doesn’t care that I don’t want to go shopping. It wants food now, not tomorrow, not next week, NOW. So, one time when I was out of milk but had rolled oats at home, I remembered my uncle eating his oatmeal without milk. Rather than go buy milk, I tried his way. To my surprise, it was good. After that, my oatmeal no longer sees milk. I eat it with blueberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Sometimes with raisins or craisins, sometimes with sliced strawberries or bananas on top.

That’s better.

Because my uncle was born and grew up in Latvia, I assumed that all Latvians eat milkless porridge, but I like evidence, so I posted the question in a social media group devoted to Latvian foods. No, eating porridge without milk wasn’t just my uncle’s eccentric preference. The majority of Latvians eat the hot breakfast cereal the same way. One woman even said that until she’d traveled outside Latvia, she’d never heard of eating oatmeal with milk. Another woman thought it’s yucky.

I learned of a variety of ways to fix and serve oatmeal. Not everyone cooks it with water. Many people cook oats in milk, then serve it with a pat of butter or with salt and/or cinnamon. One man cooks his with bananas and pours browned butter on top. Several people stir jam or jelly into their cereal.

In most cultures, only very young children drink milk. Sixty percent of adults around the world can’t digest milk. The rest, mostly Americans and Europeans still produce the enzyme that helps their bodies digest milk. Naturally, of the ones who can drink milk, some simply don’t like it or they like it with some foods, but not others. Being able to drink milk, or put it on their oatmeal, is what’s weird, not being able to is the norm. If you’re an adult who still wants wet oats, but can’t tolerate milk or want to save calories, and fat, you can wet your cereal with soy milk, coconut milk, or oat milk. Twice the oats.

I think there’s porridge under there. I’ll have to try this sometime.