Back in the late eighties, before the Internet and Wikipedia, most facts and figures were collected in almanacs or books like the Guiness Book of World Records. Through one of these unforgettable book club flyers, I bought a copy of the Second Kids World Almanac when I was an impressionable nine year-old. I credit (blame?) that book for turning me into a trivia and general knowledge junkie. How did I know that this book was to be trusted as a veritable source for listings of popular haircuts, the true name of pop stars and the origins of unusual animals? In the food chapter, it featured popular breakfast foods around the world. Under Puerto Rico, the listing said something akin to “oatmeal or cooked cornmeal with milk poured over it, coffee”. Clearly these people knew what they were talking about.
Hot cereals – cremas – are ubiquitous in households, bakeries, and cafeterias all over the island. Oatmeal, cream of wheat (farina) and cooked cornmeal (harina de maiz) are the three most widely available cereals. These are always cooked with milk infused with sugar and other spices. Imagine my surprise when I made it to college and had my first taste of unsweetened oatmeal! I wasn’t too happy at first, but that’s how I learned to pour maple syrup over it – still one of my preferred ways to eat it. My absolute favorite hot cereal, the one I missed the most while I lived in New Orleans, was the harina de maiz. I can best compare it to a sweetened polenta, made with an even finer grind corn flour than polenta and grits. It is usually topped with cinnamon, although I’ve learned that the tiniest pat of butter will magnify the corn taste. No offense to the ever-present grits of my college years in the South, but I liked my delicate porridge better.