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Monday, 15 April 2013

Granola (Γρανόλα)

An Athenian friend of mine introduced me to granola and since then, my kids have been hooked on it. It's so easy to make at home that I couldn't understand the hype concerning boxed granola when I stayed with my London hosts. They introduced the sturdy box containing a sturdy plastic bag whose contents looked nothing more than cereal with mixed nuts. "It's Dorset", one of them said, a bit like a name-dropper wishing to impress. 12 glorious bowlfuls, the box proclaimed on the front. Seriously? I thought. That's 42g of granola a serving - it must be a tiny bowl. That box wouldn't last in my house for more than three days between my two kids.
My friend's granola mixture is home-made.

As they watched my kids devouring the decadently flavoured granola (chocolate), they exclaimed how expensive kids were to maintain. "Imagine needing 2 of these boxes a week just for their breakfast!" they said. I stared at my kids pouring out the contents of the pretty packaging and imagined how easily the recycling bin at my hosts' house would be filled if they ate Dorset chocolate granola every day for breakfast.

What is granola? Rolled oats, cornflakes, nuts and dried fruit, baked in some kind of oil and sweetener. It is so incredibly easy to make that I rarely think of it as a recipe. Recipes abound on the internet, the ingredients are easy to find and rarely need any processing before being turned into granola. Different varieties of store-bought granola basically contain some ingredient that has been added for a more exotic dimension, eg chocolate or dried cherries, both of which raise the prestige of the product (and of course the price).
Making granola does not need much more than a spoon to mix it with. 

Store-bought granola is expensive because of the way it is marketed - to make the buyer feel a certain degree of prestige: buying a certain brand will earn him/her a good reputation. Contentious ingredients in granola include chocolate: the labelling on the packet will tell you where it's sourced (or it will divert you to their website), which is especially important for people with a heightened awareness of what they owe the lesser world that has made their one more comfortable. If anything has been added to a product that may not sound like your average natural-and-sitting-in-your-pantry ingredient, it will be explained to sound natural, eg "antioxidant: natural tocopherol-rich soya extract" is explained as something that is natural and found in "planta" (as if "planta" is an everyday word), which is added in the quantity of a "smudge" (so tiny it wasn't really necessary?) to make sure that "everything stays lovely and fresh" (the expiry date is often a year after the product was packed). Claims that the granola is hand-made in a country kitchen add to the prestige of the product even though we all know that a machine would have made this product cheaper; it is simply another association to class - we may not live in a house with a country kitchen, but we want our food to come from one, for that extra added illusion of affluence. Some kind of certification gprocides added trust: eg UK Vegetarian Society approved. And if the granola company is involved in conscientious projects, eg supporting tree planting in forests, it makes the consumer feel more righteous, supporting environmentally-friendly socially responsible companies.
Crispy granola keeps easily in an air-tight container.

Making your own granola will not inflate your ego in the same way, although it may help to keep your pocket inflated. It will also reinforce the fact you really cannot afford to dispose of your money so easily, and it may make you think your children are less privileged because they do not have access to such prestige products, even if they were available where you live. Home-made granola also brings home to you the reality of your environment. In Crete, for example, people do not worry about whether chocolate is fairtrade or not. If this really did worry me, I wouldn't eat chocolate at all, and I'd be demanding higher prices for our orange production (rather than selling it at low prices, we simply give it away to friends). This could be my get-rich-quick moment, marketing granola in my area, among people who do not know it as a concept; it may be an untapped market here, but who needs granola in a place where other breakfasts are already in use? Selling granola is all about building an image of exclusivity - Greeks generally follow the fashion rather than create it. But even if granola did become a fashion, in a crisis, if people cotton on to what granola is actually made of and how easy it is to make it, they will immediately realise they are being overcharged for such a simple product. You pay for the marketing more than the product.

My granola is made with Cretan honey and Cretan olive oil, which is a natural anti-oxidant in itself. Nothing can be more natural than what you make yourself, especially if all the natural individual ingredients are available cheaply to you. I use a mixture of rolled oats and muesli (it's cheaper to buy a ready mix) and locally foraged walnuts. It's all browned in the oven and left to cool before being stored in a covered bowl that slowly empties out during the week. In today's granola-making session, I added goji berries, which are now being promoted as a superfood. We may not be able to afford the cereal box, but we can still have our cereal.

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