Breakfast cereal

Living the muesli life

by Jerry Rosenfarb

We have a friend who occasionally visits, and when he does, he raptures about Lidl’s Fruit and Nut Muesli. “The best”, he says, and he should know, being from Western Austria. He has searched for it in Vienna to no avail, so when I visit Vienna, I like to bring him a package or two. Recently, I texted him to say that because of the cancellation of flights from Ireland to Austria, I wouldn’t be bringing him any Muesli for the foreseeable. His reply was swift, and in the stoical way of a citizen in lockdown, he remarked, “Yes indeed, we need to focus on the fruits and nuts of our muesli lives.”

It was the best suggestion I had read in a little while. Crownfield’s Premium Muesli. Ingredients: Raisins, Sultanas, Dried Pineapple, Banana chips, Chopped dates, Dried Papaya, Flaked coconut, Oat flakes, Barley flakes. Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pecan nuts, Wheat flakes, Pumpkin seeds.

I ruminated. Raisins. My mind immediately flew to the vineyards in France, where, toiling in the autumn sun, harvesters (I was once one) cut the clusters of grapes from the vine and fill buckets to be emptied into horse drawn tubs, winding their way through the rows of vines. Sultanas. Presumably named after the Sultan of Izmir, from where those blonde fruits come. Pineapples from the tropical Pacific islands, Hawaii. The man from DelMonte says yes to the cartloads of fruit heading in our direction, wonderful succulent pineapples. Bananas. I had seen banana groves in Israel, where someone told me that the trees wander around at night. Perhaps that is why their fruit is chipped before being taken by Crownfield. Chopped dates. I believe date palms are so omnipresent along the shores of the Tigres in Iraq that the people there have no other word for tree, and tree means date palm. Papayas seem to me to come from the land of Papaya, which the French painter Henri Rousseau depicted with grass-skirted women and men with long papaya-harvesting knives. Flaked coconut from the Philippines. Islands and beaches where they fall into the hands of the tranquil harvesters, who occasionally run up a tree to collect the few unobliging fruit. Oat flakes. Nearer to home. How the feathery ears of oats illustrated many fields. Sheaves of oats collected, barrels of oats harvested. Seven bushels to the barrel at two stone nine a bushel, two hundredweight, two and a half stone. Where does this come from? Ohh, the days of working horses and eating like a horse. I knew a man who had reputedly carried a barrel of oats to the top of a hill near Annamoe for a dare. Isolation has its effects. Barley, soup mix and cattle feed. I used to roll barley to discs the size of pennies for my cattle. The dust always made me cough. Almonds. That tasty nut of Marzipan and Mandelbrot, so Middle Eastern and East-European. Hazelnuts, the bounty of the hazel tree. The nuts fall in autumn and dry for a tasty treat in Ireland, but are big business in western Turkey, where the best nuts come from. And Pecans from plantations in Georgia, where gentlemen farmers with big mansions preside over villages of indebted share croppers. Canadian prairies yield up hard wheat to be flaked, and Pumpkin seeds I am sure come from North America, too. The saved seeds from Jack-O-Lanterns and pumpkin pie … ahh, I think I romanticise. But all this in one little package from Lidl for less than two euro. A world, it seems, for a few pence.

I take up my package and shake some into a microwavable soup container, put on a drop of milk, from Ireland’s Golden Vale, no doubt, and microwave for two minutes. Then, I turn the steaming fragrant pudding into a bowl and add more milk. Like a sandcastle with a moat around it beached in my bowl. To the breakfast table I go and settle for my first feast of the day. The bowl exudes a fragrance. Warm milk in a cosy byre, grains and fruit permeating from the loft above. Sat at the dining table, spoon in hand, I undermine the castle at the water line and raise the steaming mass to my lips. The gate opens and softly closes, allowing the extraction of the spoon, remaining the mass on tongue, which swiftly pushes it between the hammer of my lower teeth and the anvil of my upper jaw. Every grain, fruit and flake is being searched and arranged, pushed and plied, with my tongue to teeth. The hazelnuts splinter, the grains crush, some hold their shape for a second bite, some escape between teeth and lips. The soft raisins and papaya fold and bend to my gums, sweet and fragrant, only to be pushed and pulverised again. I salivate. Up and down my jaw goes masticating and pulverising, chewing, mixing and then swallowing. Into that storeroom of oblivion pleasantly the satisfaction of the swallow, and back to the next spoonful, a different bite, sweeter and softer, papaya, oats, raisins, pumpkin seeds, and sultanas. Muesli is an orchestra of tastes. It is playing a composition full of surprise, arriving at a seemingly random note that fulfils the quest of the others, chimes its individuality and then is gone.

I focus on the fruit and nuts of our muesli lives. Juices flow when we mix. We call the world creation, but that’s a misnomer. It is creative, it is dynamic, and it is not anthropocentric. A small mutation of a virus across species is a creative act, although not advantageous to us. What is added or omitted is not in our control. Like muesli, it arises out of what is brought together, opportunity, but unlike muesli, there is no controlling company monitoring the product. But the crunch, the bite, the flavour and the pungency are still there. The virus thrives.

Creative regulation and economy of scale does not allow the Turkish sultana farmer or the pecan farmer from Georgia in the US to be as personally involved in the growing as they once were, and farmers are now more likely to spend their time maintaining, repairing and operating their machinery that they grow and save their crops with, but I would like to express gratitude to them and all of the others for making this available to me, for overseeing their produce, their creativity and care, honestly and trustingly helping to create, along with the blenders, packagers and distributors, sustenance for the world community of muesli-cereal and fruit-and-nut consumers. Thank you.

Breakfast over. It will soon be time to prepare lunch.

Stay safe and well.

Published here with the kind permission of Jerry Rosenfarb. Thank you!