Flash in the Pan 

Granola school

When I was 17 years old, I conducted my college search with the help of a book that compared various schools in several important categories, such as the ratio of girls to boys, how good the food was, and—oh yeah—academics.

One of the categories, measured on a scale of 1 to 5, was how “granola” the school was. This indicator crunched several criteria, such as the amount of armpit and leg hair worn by the average female student, tie-dyes per capita, bare feet per classroom and the quantity, in gallons per minute, of patchouli oil poured upon the student body. Granola was, in essence, the new way of saying “hippy.” Schools with lots of hippies were known as “granola schools.”

Although at the time I wasn’t quite sure if granola was a good thing or not in this context, looking back I can at least say it was an appropriate term.

In the early 1970s, when I was knee-high to a fire hydrant, my brother Charles lived in a community called Whitehorse Village in northern Utah’s Cache Valley. “We were an alternative bunch into making down-homey music while not overly clothed,” he says of the Whitehorse Village crew. As it turns out, down-homey music wasn’t the only thing my brother was making.

When Charles wasn’t playing the bucket-bass in Whitehorse Village, he was a shepherd near the Continental Divide. There, at Sheep Camp, when he wasn’t feeding his horses, chasing coyotes or playing harmonica at the swimming hole, he was known to make really good granola.

“My friend Carolee embroidered me a shirt with the words ‘Charlie Granola,’” Charlie recalls. “She walked three days to Sheep Camp to give me that shirt, and to eat some granola. I used to make big batches in a wood stove, burning sagebrush for fuel.

“Sheep Camp was at 9,400 feet along the Utah/Wyoming line,” he continues. “I would saddle up Snooper at dawn for the morning herd, make granola in mid-day and play fiddle tunes on the metal roof of my chuck wagon in the afternoon.”

He fiddled with his cappuccino maker as he told me this, 30-plus years later, having gone the way of many former hippies. We were in his new kitchen, which has granite countertops and a stove that lights when you turn a knob.

“I phased out making granola when I moved back to civilization,” he says, wistfully.

Alas, time is relentless. The last wild tribes of Amazon Indians are being contacted as we speak, Eskimos drive snowmobiles, cowboys shop at Wal-Mart, former granola classmates are working at dot-com companies and Charlie Granola has traded in his horse for a riding lawnmower. But like those curled yellowed photographs from Whitehorse Village, there are ways we can hold onto the past. Unlike looking at old pictures, following Charlie Granola’s granola recipe yields posterity you can eat. In fact, you pretty much can’t stop eating it.

Since his granola recipe is adapted from wood-fired stoves to civilized kitchens, these temperatures and cooking times are approximate.

To some extent, so are the ingredients.

“The trickiest part was convincing the boss to bring up the ingredients,” Charlie says. “In 1973, the store in Woodruff, Utah, was a gas station, grocery store and post office all in one. They sold Velveeta, Oscar Mayer and Wonder Bread.”

While the oven pre-heats to 375, mix the following wet ingredients: 3/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup safflower oil and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Then mix the following dry ingredients: 5 cups rolled oats, 1 or 2 cups of cashews, 1 cup of pecans and/or sliced almonds, 1 cup dried, shredded coconut, 1/3 cup sesame seeds, and one and a half teaspoons ground cinnamon.

Mix together the wet and dry ingredients and spread evenly about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick onto oiled oven pans or a cast iron skillet.

Place the pan(s) in the hot oven and prepare the second-stage ingredients: 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries and 1 cup each calimyrna figs and dates (pitted dates are easier to work with), both cut into peanut-sized pieces.

“Sometimes the dates and figs are moist and sticky, and while being cut into little pieces they begin to bunch up into an ever-growing mound,” Charlie Granola says. “I need that about as much as a wounded rabbit needs a hungry coyote. So I keep the little fellers separated by spooning on white flour and working it in as needed.”

Baking time can be 25 minutes or quite a bit longer depending on how thick your mixture is in the pans, and what kind of oven you’re using. Keep it moving with frequent stirs after the first 10 minutes, until it approaches golden brown. When it starts to turn, mix in the chopped fruit. Don’t let the brown darken a shade past golden.

By this point, the whole house will smell like a 1970s sheep camp—in a good way. Be prepared for drooling friends, family and perhaps an army of hippies to show up in your kitchen, lured by the smell.

If you have any granola left over after the initial assault, store it in jars after it’s cooled.

Unlike many hippies, my brother Charlie Granola was the real deal—earthy, simple and soulful—and his granola is proof. Watching the way it gets devoured by everyone, at every time of day, it makes me question common assumptions about “hippy” and “granola.” Charlie’s granola isn’t just for hippies anymore, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore, either. And while the world may keep turning, and student bodies keep changing, Charlie’s kitchen, wood burning or newfangled, will remain my favorite granola school.

Ask Ari: Local food bill

 Q: Dear Flash,

Thanks for the heads-up about those important federal so-called “food safety” bills this week. I just wanted to draw your and your readers’ attention to an important bill currently in the Montana House of Representatives: HB 583. This bill would fund four food and agriculture development centers around the state, which would give farmers and ranchers the opportunity to add value to their product and sell it in state, rather than ship their raw materials to out-of-state processors. Adding value themselves would give producers the opportunity to reap more of the total profit from the fruits for their labor, and keep more of the $3 billion Montanans spend on food in state.

I urge your readers to contact their representatives right away!

—Hungry for Montana Food

Thanks for the heads-up, HMF. Creating a local food-processing infrastructure will open important markets to local producers, including retail outlets, restaurants, hospitals, schools and other large institutions. Since your letter captured the gist of this important bill, I’ll just add that you can leave a message for your Rep by calling 406-444-4800.

If you want to comment by e-mail, go to http://leg.mt.gov/css/Sessions/61st/legwebmessage.asp.

To read the bill and track its progress, go to: http://laws.leg.mt.gov/laws09/law0203w$.startup.

Meanwhile, I also want to spread the word about a local food opportunity of a different sort: Garden Burger has a grant program offering $1,000–$10,000 to groups that want to set up community gardens in their town. While Missoula’s Garden City Harvest has that covered, some other communities in the region might want to look into this. Visit www.gardenburger.com/Grants.aspx for more information. The application deadline is May 15.

Thanks to Jonda Crosby at AERO for the tip.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.
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