Farina or Cream of Wheat

1186651-at_the_dinerOne morning on a recent road trip, I stopped at the local diner in a small Mississippi town. While sitting at the counter having breakfast, I overheard several guys discussing the proper way to season their grits. One gentleman remarked that he and his fellow Arkansans favored sugar while a couple of the local boys said they preferred salt on their grits. Another local spoke up, declaring he too liked sweet grits, “with a big pat of butter.”

Then one man, originally from the Northeast, declared that he was raised on Cream of Wheat instead of grits.

“Isn’t that the same as Farina?”

“Farina is made from corn.”

“No, no, they’re both made from wheat. Farina is just a brand name.”

“Cream of Wheat is a brand, too. It’s the one in the red box with the old white guy on the front.”

“Yeah? I thought that was Quaker Oats.”

With that I quietly paid my bill, walked to my car, and got back on the road, thinking how little we sometimes know of cultures and foods outside the surroundings in which we were raised. It was obvious that most of the locals at that diner had probably never traveled more than fifty miles from their small town, and certainly had the limited palate to show for it.

I myself, in spite of a culinary career that has exposed me to all kinds of foods from around the world, tend to list the foods I grew up with as my favorites. And, having grown up as the son of a couple of Oklahoma farmers, cream of wheat would certainly not make the list!

productsCream of Wheat is a brand of farina, a porridge-type breakfast food that while having a texture similar to grits, is ground simolina wheat kernels instead of ground corn. There are also several other brands of farina sold in this country, the most prominent being Malt-O-Meal, third largest cereal manufacturer in America founded in 1919, and Farina, a cereal-boxes-origbrand started by Pillsbury in 1898 and purchased by Malt-O-Meal from U.S. Mills in 2009. And there are several smaller brands including Phoebe, Bob’s Red Mill, Goober Gourmet, and Honeyville.

Cream of Wheat was invented by Thomas S. Amidon, head miller at Diamond Mills in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and made its debut at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Amidon had begun making the hot breakfast porridge for his family, when in the midst of a national economic downturn he went to the mill owners, Emery Mapes, George Bull, and Clifford George, and convinceddownload (1) them to market the cereal he called Cream of Wheat (so named because it was so white).

Demand for Cream of Wheat soon outgrew the Grand Forks mill, so in 1897 Mapes, Bull, and Clifford moved the mill to Minneapolis. Growth continued and by 1928 the plant had expanded two additional times. In 1962, after sixty-nine years of being run by generations of the original owners, the mill was sold to Nabisco. Nabisco merged with Standard Brands in 1981 and was then bought out by Kraft Foods in 2000. In 2007, Kraft sold Cream of Wheat to B&G Foods where it continues to be produced by the same formula it began with 120 years ago.

The Cream of Wheat package is indeed red, however the “guy on the front” is an downloadAfrican-American chef named Rastus, developed by artist Edward V. Brewer. It is said that an actual chef by the name of Frank L. White was Brewer’s model for the box. Mr. White died in 1938 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie, Michigan. On his headstone is an etching of the man depicted on the Cream of Wheat box.

Today, there are six kinds of Cream of Wheat, including Original, Whole Grain and COWCream of Rice, as well as five flavors of Instant Cream of Wheat on the market.

My wife, an Italian lady from New York, initiated me to the delicate taste of the original unflavored Cream of Wheat some thirty years ago. She prefers it lightly salted with butter and a little milk or light cream. And while it’s certainly not a bad way to get started on a cold morning, I myself am partial to oatmeal over either Cream of Wheat or grits.

Yep, you guessed it. Oatmeal’s the hot breakfast cereal I grew up on.

Make Em: Cream of Wheat Breakfast Bake, Apple Cranberry Crumble, Chocolate Chip Pudding, Country Polenta

New Year’s Food Traditions: For Luck and Prosperity

Probably no other holiday in America is more deeply entrenched in food tradition and superstition than New Year’s.

While the first recorded festivities celebrating the arrival of the new year date back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon, it was Julius Caesar who originally established January 1 as the first day of the year, with the introduction of his Julian calendar in 46 B.C. Then, in medieval Europe, Christian leaders, believing the merriment associated with the new year was far too pagan and party hatsunChristian like, replaced January 1 in favor of “more significant” religious days, such as December 25 (the date of Jesus’ birth) and March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation). However, January 1 was reestablished in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII and his Gregorian calendar, the one most used today throughout the world.

In America, New Year’s celebrations start on December 31 (New Year’s Eve) and continue into the early hours of January 1 with parties, fireworks, concerts, and, of course, lots of food and drink. Exactly which foods, when eaten as part of the New Year’s first meal, are thought to bring prosperity and good luck during the coming year, depends largely on one’s location and ethnic background.

2648_MEDIUMPork, with its rich, fatty meat, has long been a symbol of wealth and prosperity. The pig is also considered a symbol of progress because they always move forward when rooting for food, unlike chickens and turkeys that scratch backward when feeding, representing setbacks and struggles. American Southerners favor ham and ham hocks, while Midwesterners and Pennsylvanians prefer pork ribs, chops, and kielbasa cooked with sauerkraut.

Fish is another food considered to be lucky. Its silveryRed snapper scales are said to be reminiscent of coins, they travel in schools which symbolizes abundance, and they swim forward to symbolize progress. The Chinese believe that serving the fish with head and tail intact ensures a good year, from start to finish. Crustaceans, such as lobster, shrimp, and crawfish, should be avoided since they scuttle backwards.

cabbageCabbage, kale, chard, and other greens are thought to bring good luck by several cultures because their green leaves are symbolic of money and economic fortune. In the southern states, collards are the greens of choice. The Danish tradition is stewed kale sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, while Germans and Poles enjoy sauerkraut, and the Irish boil cabbage with potatoes.

blackeyed peasLegumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of coins. And because they swell when cooked, they are said to symbolize increased financial rewards. Italian families customarily cook their lentils with pork sausage to doubly ensure luck. In the southern states, the tradition is to eat black-eyed peas–one pea for each day in the new year–in a dish called hoppin’ john.

cornbreadCornbread is a favorite New Year’s treat in the American south because its color symbolizes gold. To ensure even more luck, some people add corn kernels, which are representative of golden nuggets. Living in the south is not required.

images (3)People from Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Cuba, and other Latin backgrounds have a tradition eating twelve grapes before the last stroke of the clock, each representing a month of the new year. Every sweet grape means a month pomegranateof luck and good fortune; every sour grape, a month of disappointment. Other good luck fruits include figs–a symbol of fertility and pomegranates whose many seeds symbolize prosperity.

noodlesEating long noodles, especially soba noodles, on New Year’s Day are thought by many Asians to bring long life. The longer they are, the better. But it’s considered bad luck if you break the noodle before getting it all into your mouth, so slurp carefully.

bundt cakeRing-shaped cakes and other round baked goods eaten on New Year’s are considered by many cultures to bring luck and the assurance of good fortune. In some cultures, a coin or special trinket is baked inside and whoever gets the surprise is guaranteed good fortune for the coming year–unless of course they break a tooth.

images (1)So there you have it. Ten ways to start your new year off right. Whatever juju you choose, we hope 2013 brings you all the success and good fortune you wish for. In the meanwhile, let’s all tip our glass to another round as we sing Auld Lang Syne, and wait for that giant ball to drop in Times Square.

Make Em: Pork Roast with Sauerkraut and Kielbasa, Southern-Style Collard Greens, Hoppin’ John, Grandma Etchieson’s Buttermilk Cornbread, Eggnog Pound Cake