I’ve never been to summer camp, but I’ve seen enough mid- to late ’90s movies staring Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins to know how it works. You row canoes, learn to fence and mingle with fancy folks from across the pond. Then after a long day of reconnecting with your long lost twin and devising a plan to swap places for a while, you settle into bed and wake up just in time for breakfast at the ol’ mess hall. Breakfast at the mess hall usually consists of fresh fruit (which you’re likely allergic to) and a ladleful of sticky gloppy substance that resembles overcooked porridge. You’re supposed to think this glob of oats looks terrible, but you eat it anyway because it’s the only sustenance you’ll get until lunchtime. Maybe it’s because I never got to experience said glob for myself, but I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I always thought it looked pretty delicious. Thus, I wake from my summer camp daydream — the real campers separated from the wannabes.
It’s very possible that my love of oatmeal as an adult is directly tied to my yearning for summer camp as a kid. But now that I’m often cooking for more than just myself, I feel somewhat compelled to make an oatmeal breakfast look less like my dream camp gruel and more like a breakfast fit for casual company. This recipe for spiced pumpkin oatmeal originally appeared in the New York Times back in 2001, and it was written by one of my favorite Times contributors Melissa Clark. Anyone who can take a food as seemingly mundane as oatmeal and turn it into something flavorful and delicious that appeals to the masses is borderline genius in my book. Perhaps she went to camp as a kid.
Spiced Pumpkin Oatmeal
Adapted slightly from The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 673)
• ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
• ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
• ¼ cup brown sugar
• 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
• 4 ½ cups low-fat milk or water (I used water)
• 1 ½ cups steel-cut oats or 2 cups rolled oats (I went with rolled oats because we had them on hand)
• ¾ teaspoon salt
Toast allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, then add pumpkin, and stir to combine. Add milk or water, and raise the heat to bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in the oats, and simmer over medium heat (low heat for rolled oats) until tender but not mushy (about 25 to 30 minutes for steel-cut oats, about 10 to 15 minutes for rolled oats).
Stir in salt. Serve with warm applesauce, chopped or sliced apples, apple cider syrup if desired, though it’s yummy all by its lonesome, too.
Do you have any favorite camp food memories (real or imagined)? How do you like your oatmeal? Do you dress it up to the nines or keep it classic and original? Let’s hear it!