I didn't mean to watch Oliver! I'd never seen it before, but being Dickens it seemed festive enough, so I had it on in the background in between yanking cookie trays out of the oven and suffering alarming blood loss at the hands of my metal tape dispenser. Oliver! is basically Annie for boys. Wayward orphan, minus the ginger 'fro, finds a new life away from an oppressive orphanage. The workhouse didn't look quite as nice as Miss Hannigan's place, but the idea was the same. The whole thing is pretty light on food, but since they made such a huge stinkin' deal about it in the opening number, I found myself intrigued by one particular dish: Gruel.
I didn't know that gruel was an actual thing; I always thought it was more of a slang term for oatmeal that had been rolled in dirt or something equally noxious. Imagine my surprise when Wikipedia informed me that gruel was not only real, but came in a multitude of varieties, which, as we know, is the spice of life. I'm nothing if not adventurous, so I decided to hunt me down a nice gruel recipe and get to cooking!
I decided to go really bare bones for the true orphan experience and selected flour gruel, which seemed the grueliest of the gruels. The recipe was frightfully vague, but it basically amounted to making a salt and flour paste and dumping it into some boiling water. I could do that.
I considered my pantry. It was at this moment that I thanked God and all his angels for my vast and fabulous collection of artisan salts, the brainchild of Julie Dworak-Brennan who is the owner/operator of A Deadly Asalt. She makes KICKASS kosher salt impregnated with all manner of herbs and spices, and I am, as you can see, a fan.
Seriously, go buy these immediately.
The first big decision I had to make centered around whether I wanted a sweet or a savory gruel. My initial choice was to go for the roasted garlic, which I use on potatoes with greap aplomb, but Brandon suggested that I go for the vanilla caramel--a dessert gruel, if you will. I have a soft spot for the vanilla caramel, as I was called in as a consultant during its testing phase, so I went with it.
To my salt, I added flour. Please take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous caramel in there (I'm not kidding, www.adeadlyasalt.com, go there now).
Now here's where things started to get dicey. According to the recipe, I was supposed to drip water on the salt and flour to make a paste...so I did that and got this:
It was extremely pasty
The next step called for me to add said paste to a cup of boiling water. As it turns out, adding flour and salt paste to boiling water doesn't do much for either of them. The water was still water, though unappealingly murky, and the paste formed a series of unappetizing blobs that refused to dissolve or thicken or do much of anything, really. I did some frenzied whipping for about a minute and everything got pretty foamy, but that was the only change. Brandon told me that I had indeed caused (GASP!) gluten to form. HIDE YOUR CHILDREN!!!
Deadly gluten notwithstanding, I pressed on and drained my concoction to remove what the recipe called 'the film.' I saw no film, but after I drained it I had this to deal with:
I was completely at a loss as to whether or not the gruel was the diluted semen-like abomination in the bowl or the tonsil stones that were left in the strainer. It was anyone's guess. I hearkened back to Oliver! and remembered that their gruel did look a lot like soup, so in an effort not to end the evening vomiting, I decided to go with the bowl.
I knew that I would need some honest reaction shots, so I asked Brandon to take pictures of me testing out my dish. I wasn't quite sure how one should dress when chugging homemade gruel at ten-thirty on a Thursday night, but I'm pretty sure I nailed it.
It wasn't good.
It left me feeling like I may have overdressed
No amount of caramel could save this dish. In the end, the whole situation made me feel pretty sorry for 19th Century London youth, and hateful toward Charles Dickens' for being such a tool and not letting them eat tongue or bone marrow or some other type of Depression era food. The stuff they ate in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn didn't sound fabulous, but at least it was edible. I would rock some stale bread pudding and a sheeny pickle.
*Surprise gruel bonus! It coats the tongue to be sure, so I was throwing back diet Dr. Pep like it was my job after I tasted it. I'm sure it was the salt, but following my dismal snack, the Dr. Pepper tasted nothing short of incredible. Perhaps it was the ambrosia of my taste buds weeping in relief, but my chaser was a delight.
If you would like to make your own gruel, something I can't discourage enough, this is how I did it:
2 teaspoons of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup boiling water
Diet Dr. Pepper
Mix together flour and salt and then drip water on it to form a paste. Add the paste to one cup of boiling water, whisk, and drain. Serve warm, with a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper.
Gruel is fo' fools. Yo.