Tastes Like Home

Hi Everyone, Growing up, I was tortured by porridge. The only kind of porridge that I could bear was sago porridge.

I never understood the lure of porridge. Perhaps it is because it’s associated with breakfast and you know how I feel about breakfast – it’s my least favourite meal of the day. Imagine the torture then, growing up, and being commanded to make porridge and drink or eat it depending on what mixture you were going for. Quaker oats ruled the day in our home. The Quaker man on the box was probably a nice enough guy, but I hated that smiling face on the box looking back at me, almost mocking me. “Eat it, it’s good for you,” said my mother. In these modern times I might have been able to say, “Eewww, yuck! I can’t stand that thing!” I would have pushed away the bowl placed in front of me, folded my arms and sulked, perhaps even thrown a tantrum. However, I grew up in a time where you ate what was put in front of you. So I ate my Quaker oats porridge by gulping it down, never letting it linger on my tongue to taste it. Sometimes I would even close my eyes as I brought the spoon to my mouth. One time, with my mother out of sight, I poured it down the sink; the darn thing was so thick and needed so much water to wash away the evidence, I swore I would get caught. Luckily I didn’t.

One day I noticed that a bag full of white beads made its appearance in the kitchen. It looked so pretty. Mom said it was sago and it was to make porridge! I thought to myself, “Why do you want to torture me woman?! Don’t you get it that I hate porridge and that I don’t like it?” Pretending not to notice my pained expression my mother proceeded to show me how to make sago porridge – carefully measure the sago and soak it in some water, in the meantime bring a sauce pot with a stick of cinnamon to boil, when the water boils, add the sago, turn the heat to medium low and let it cook until the sago-beads become translucent, sweeten with sugar to taste and lots of milk, pour into cup and drink. If you’ve ever made or had sago porridge you know that the sago-beads usually sink to the bottom of the utensil, when I saw this I was happy, It meant that I did not actually have to swallow the beads, this made me warm to sago porridge. All I had to do was drink the liquid part. When my mother saw me carefully pouring my porridge to ensure that I only got the liquid, she showed me that I had to stir the porridge just as I was about to pour. That way I’d get both the liquid and the sago-beads. Darn!

Eventually, I learnt to let my sago porridge settle, drink off the liquid at the top and throw away the sago settled at the bottom. That’s how I learned to like sago porridge.

Parents are astute and I think my mother noticed back then that the sago seemed to be going down just fine, so guess what? The woman decided to introduce to us to yet another porridge ingredient! This time it was corn meal! I was beginning to wonder what sort of porridge hell I was in. I gently stated that I preferred the sago. You would think that the flurry of porridge ingredients would stop there, no way. My mother had a plan and her plan was to get her children to eat and drink porridge, after all, it’s good for you, it builds you up, gives you stamina. All the milk gives you calcium and the grains are healthy and nutritious. So yet another porridge ingredient made its appearance in our household – cream of wheat. By this time I was convinced that the porridge gods were out to get me. The only reason I started eating the cream of wheat (alternating with the sago) is because I was allowed to put a dollop of pineapple jam on top of my cream of wheat, that’s the only way it was going down. And my friends please don’t think it ended there, my mother even introduced us to barley porridge. Thank heavens that by the time she got around to that, we were of the age where she could no longer command but rather suggest, of course in a not too subtle way, that we have the barley porridge. I made one try just to appease her and never touched the stuff again.

As an adult now, Mr. Quaker oats and I have reacquainted ourselves, especially after that commercial on television that says eating Quaker oats for 30 days will lower your cholesterol. Well what-do-you-know, my mother was on to something! Hold on though, the only way I have Quaker oats is most definitely not the way the commercial intended. Whenever I make Quaker oats these days, its more like a dessert, I add raisins, cinnamon, grated nutmeg, make it thick and then chill it. It’s so good; it’s almost as if I’m eating rice pudding. The sago is still my porridge of choice and these days, I enjoy it with the sago-beads and not just the liquid-milky part. I love how the sago-beads slither across my tongue and down my throat.

I know that there are so many other grains and ingredients out there that are made into porridge and I know that they are meant to be good for you. Sorry, they’re not for me. Sure, I use the ingredients in other dishes but not porridge. I used to see my Aunty Betty make a plantain-flour

porridge for her grandsons when they were babies, like six months and older. She would buy green plantains, slice them thin, place them on a baking sheet and leave to dry in the sun for a few days then she’d grind the plantain in the mill or sometimes pound it to a powder and make the porridge. As much as I love plantains, and as curious as I was to know how it tasted, I never tried it.

So you may be curious as to what I did with all the porridge I made for this week’s column. Well, I tasted them all, that means a tablespoon each, and then I packed them up in containers and gave them to a porridge-loving friend of mine.




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