Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hippie Fuel ("Ultimate" granola)

Granola ranks among my very favorite foods, to the degree that (like Biscoff cookie spread) I'm better off not even keeping any in the house lest I simply devour it by the bagful. Crunchy-sweet-salty is totally my jam, and the typical inclusion of nuts & berries is also right up my alley. It shouldn't be overlooked, however, that while granola has a significant history as healthy "hippie" food, some granolas' claims to "health" may be somewhat...questionable.

Healthy ...ish
I originally thought the name "granola" was a portmanteau derived from grain + ola (as in oil, like canola), because the modern base recipe is essentially oats soaked in one or more fats and sweeteners. Actually, it has a somewhat convoluted history derived from the word "granule" and copyright infringement claims. Granula was arguably the world's first breakfast cereal, credited to Dr. James Caleb Jackson of Dansville, NY, who served it at his popular mountainside health spa starting in 1863. Granula was a twice-baked blend of high fiber Graham (whole wheat) flour briquettes. The Graham flour was made into dough, rolled into sheets, baked, broken, re-baked, and then further broken up (thus "granulated") into a chunky mixture somewhat like giant Grape-Nuts cereal. Much like Grape-Nuts, these tough, dense nuggets required soaking to be edible. A similar granula cereal was developed by John Harvey Kellogg (yes, that one), and swiftly (and imaginatively!) renamed granola to avoid legal strife.

Because corporations control our food supply
The 1960s revived the name and general recipe concept of baked grains and granola became closely associated with the hippie movement. "Granola" still functions as an adjective for this reason. Among their other cultural legacies, hippies updated the granola recipe with fruit and nuts to increase its health food appeal. Several people claim to have originated the granola revival, most prominently Layton Gentry (named "Johnny Granola-Seed" by Time magazine) who first sold his oat-based recipe in 1964. By the mid 70s, most commercial cereal manufacturers had a brand of granola. As is so common with the developing processed foods industry, the drive of the almighty dollar introduced further amounts fats and sweeteners, to augment flavor and shelf-life.

Just the right amount of sweet
This isn't to say that increased calories is necessarily bad for you. We need calories to live and "essential fats" are a real thing. So long as your calorie output equals or exceeds input, all should be well.  For activities like backpacking and camping, granola is a useful source of portable, lightweight, and nutrient-dense (i.e. high calorie) food. It can also be useful for people like bodybuilders and wrestlers who can find themselves in the somewhat enviable position of trying to put on weight. For those trying to curb calories, use granola more like a condiment with other, bulkier, but lower calorie foods, like fresh fruit and/or Greek yogurt or skyr. As a bonus, the condiment approach means a little goes a long way. No matter what your consumption preferences, few mass-manufactured granolas can compare to homemade.

A taste of home
"Ultimate" granola
This is an infinitely adaptable recipe that can easily conform to several dietary restrictions. With a few nips & tucks, as noted in the ingredients list, it can be both vegan and without nuts. Naturally gluten-free. Makes about 12 half-cup servings.

3 cups rolled oats
1 cups almonds, unsalted, thinly sliced (optional, substitute more oats or other grains like millet or puffed brown rice)
1 cup cashews, unsalted, roughly chopped (optional, as above)
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (optional, as above)
1 cup pepitas, unsalted (optional, as above)
1/2 cup honey (vegans: substitute maple syrup)
1/2 cup butter (vegans: substitute coconut oil)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 lemon, freshly zested
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
2 cups dried fruit (I opted for cherries, golden raisins, and apricots)

Preheat an over to 225 F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Combine oats, nuts, coconut, and/or pepitas (or other grains, if using) in a large bowl.

By your powers combined...
Warm a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat and melt together the honey and butter (or maple syrup & coconut oil), stirring until mixed completely. Remove the resulting syrup from the heat.

Granola = oats + butterscotch
Stir the vanilla, lemon zest, and salt into your syrup mixture and allow to cool slightly. Then carefully pour the syrup over your oat mixture and gently toss until evenly combined.

Scrape the granola out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and pat into an even layer with a spatula or spoon.

Nice and even
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, tossing every 15 minutes to ensure even toasting and crumbly texture. Remove from the oven and toss with the dried fruit. Allow to cool and store in airtight containers.

Cheers!

1 comment:

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