Oatmeal in a Latino home is nothing like oatmeal in other places. The microwave stuff is just ickygoop nonsense and it just plain grosses me out. The plain oatmeal I’ve had at restaurants I will never have again because, well it’s just plain boring. It sits in the bowl all sad kinda looking at you saying, “but I’m healthy.” Yes it’s healthy and filled with cholesterol reducing fiber. It’s great for your heart but it’s NOT my grandma’s oatmeal.
That wonderful little house on Goodwin Avenue in Los Angeles was always filled with good smells and flavors. The flowers, trees and herbs scented the air and the frogs singing in the evenings was magical. Mornings there were spent under piles of blankets in my Auntie Jessie’s bedroom with the antique oval framed picture of St. Teresa of Avila looking down upon me with sad eyes. Eventually, the scent of my grandma Lupe cooking would drift in and capture me. One of the aromas that always got me smiling was the cinnamony goodness of avena or oatmeal.
The oatmeal I grew up with was rich, decadent and almost like a pudding. My grandmother would pull out her hammered pot with the worn wooden handle, add water and cinnamon (canela) sticks to it and a handful or two of plump, juicy raisins. The water would boil till it was a deep, dark red and the house was absolutely redolent of cinnamon. The raisins would plump up huge as they drank in the cinnamon water and start to float up.
When that happened, my grandmother would add in the oats. She used old-fashioned rolled oats, or a mixture of grains and oats still with lots of fiber that my uncle would bring her from this grain place. No quicky five minute oats for her. No, she used the kind that takes at least 20 minutes. She’d lower the flame on her oatmeal pot and stir in those yummy oats slowly. They’d simmer away for 20 minutes absorbing all that cinnamon and raisin liquor. Then came the decadent part.
Grandma Lupe would take a can of evaporated milk and pour that into her simmering pot of avena. That thick, creamy, almost yellow milk would imbue the oatmeal with an intensely milky flavor and make the texture velvety. Slowly the oats would bubble, with my grandma stirring carefully so it wouldn’t stick. She’d had sugar bit by bit until her practiced eyes would tell it it was just right. She’d then let it simmer, stirring all the while for another five minutes just to make sure that sugar was well blended and not grainy.
There was nothing better than that avena. She’d serve me in a little bowl with fresh milk poured over it and a pat of butter on top. The first spoonful was super rich, super creamy and all kinds of delicious. The raisins would burst in my mouth tasting unbelievably, insanely delicious. I never forgot those mornings, made her avena for my kids almost every day and now, on a lazy Saturday morning am making it for my grandchildren whom I hope will have the same memories of a kitchen filled with love and cinnamony avena simmering in a pot.