Bonfire of the Oatmeal

What's that in the bag? Why it's store-bought flapjack.
Have you ever thought about oatmeal? Like really thought about oatmeal? No?! How odd. Well, I have been thinking a lot about oatmeal this week. And I've been giggling to myself as I remember the books about oatmeal that Bert used to read on Sesame Street... Bonfire of the Oatmeal, for example, and A Tale of Two Breakfasts, which began "it was the best of oatmeals, it was the worst of oatmeals."

Kids do love their Sesame Street and I do love my oatmeal (I'm using the terms "oatmeal" and "old fashioned rolled oats" interchangeably, if that bugs you, you're a bigger dork than I am). Such a diverse grain: it takes on so many textures, tastes good in so many forms. I am a regular granola maker and after trying probably a dozen recipes, I can tell you this is the best. My favorite chocolate chip cookie is this oatmeal macaroon. Every time I pass the giant bowl of apples on my coffee table, I crave apple crisp with an oatmeal topping.

And oatmeal is useful outside of the kitchen. When I had the chicken pox (for the second time... they said it couldn't be done), my mom would toss a sock filled with oatmeal in a bath and toss my itchy brother and me in after it. Google "honey oatmeal mask" and you will find many great recipes for a cheap facial treatment that feels expensive.

A photo of something oatmealy caught my eye in the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. It was a recipe for "British Flapjack." Unlike the flapjacks I know and love, the British version sounded more like a granola bar. The method was simple, the ingredients few... my beloved oatmeal was in there and also "Golden Syrup," which I had never heard of, but the internet told me was a "light treacle." All I know about treacle is that it crops up in classic British literature. The magazine added a note that golden syrup was a fancy schmancy imported product, available at precious few places (not their exact wording).

For a month, whenever I was near a specialty or gourmet store, I checked the shelves for Golden Syrup. No dice. I found it online, but balked at having to pay $18 for shipping when the syrup itself was more like $8. I don't usually spend much time or energy on tracking down fancy ingredients. I mean, I find oatmeal exciting. But golden syrup inspired something within me. I had to find it. In a last ditch effort, I asked Jonathon Gold for advice via Twitter, never believing he would respond. But he did, immediately and said he'd seen golden syrup at Cost Plus. As always, he was right.

The flapjack came out of the oven golden brown and mysterious and OH MAN is it good. The taste and texture is vaguely like Florentine cookies, with toasty oats suspended in a chewy stratosphere of buttery sweetness.

I have made British flapjacks many times now. Once I added dried cranberries and white chocolate (delicious). Once I sprinkled chopped dark chocolate over the top when the flapjack was still warm and spread the chocolate into an even layer as it melted (delightful). Because they required a rare ingredient, I thought they were exotic... until I saw packaged hunks of flapjack for sale at a candy store in San Francisco. I did buy one. Mine are better.

I ran into golden syrup unexpectedly last month. Throughout October, I held my own little horror movie festival with the help of a friend's extensive DVD collection. I had never seen such horror staples as Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Candyman. Candyman especially had my number as candy and bees were major themes (honey happens to be another obsession of mine). Either the writer or the director of the film said in the special features that he was inspired by the design on the Lyle's brand golden syrup can: a swarm of bees over a lion carcass and the text "out of the strong came forth sweetness." I found it unbelievable that anything edible would carry the image of a rotting animal, but as I happen to have a can of the stuff handy, I checked it out and yep... bees, lion carcass, Biblical reference.

Cookie season is creeping up on us all and for something a little novel to share at work, or bring to a party, or leave at the door of that weird neighbor you only see come out at night... give British flapjack a try.

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