Breakfast today will be bircher. To oatmeal that has soaked in apple juice overnight I will add a juicy Gala apple shredded on the largest holes of the box grater Grandma Mansfield gave me. Then I’ll stir in dollops of European style plain yogurt. The first bites will remind us of Edinburgh, and we’ll take a moment to reminisce about how we discovered this delicious breakfast dish.
Early in our travels through Scotland some years ago, we overnighted in Glasgow at a contemporary hotel in a repurposed bank building. Other than a shockingly bright light installed over the pod-like bathroom structure that required the efforts of both my husband and the rather pert bank manager/receptionist to disconnect in the middle of the night…an extension ladder was also involved if my sleep-stained memory reads true…the hotel was very pleasant. A comprehensive breakfast was served in a former/present conference room. We selected our favorites from platters of smoked salmon, creamy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast. As I recall, we very much enjoyed it all except for the black sausage. Neither of us can abide black sausage.
Our next stay up the coast in Oban was tragic for breakfast lovers. We had booked a room at a cozy-from-the-photographs bed and breakfast that overlooked the wind-battered harbor. The innkeeper’s husband greeted us with a terse warning that his wife had lost her dad, that he was sick of the whole lot and ready to chuck it, and that daily breakfast was a snack bar and pod coffee from the machine in the darkened lounge. “Kettle in the room. Bring your own tea,” he growled.
Our first meal of the day does not have to be large or varied but it must include cereal, or toast, and please, a piece of fruit or glass of juice, and a decent cup o’ joe. Our morning walk in Oban became a wistful search for sustenance. We discovered very soon that this well-situated seaside town was on the skids breakfast-wise. There were more boarded up restaurants than open ones, but we scraped together an edible meal most mornings. The innkeeper’s grumpy husband finally recommended his own usual breakfast place in the center of town. “You’ll be ordering the full breakfast, I expect! They make their own Lorne,” he said and smiled for the first time.
That was how we encountered the breakfast meat that made black sausage seem a gourmet treat. We ordered the full Scottish breakfast as instructed. Sidled up to our freeze-dried egg scramble was a thick pinkish square rather like an oft-used dish sponge, damp, with the pungent odor of a laundry bin stuffed with football clothes and seasoned with a week’s allowance of salt. This square thing was “Lorne.” One bite put me off the rest of the meal. My hungry husband managed a few more bites. A morning pint rinsed away the foul taste-memory.
Our centrally located hotel in Edinburgh did not offer breakfast. That first morning, we arose uncharacteristically early. We were famished. Out on the street we spied many people carrying cups from that well-known coffee cafe chain birthed in Seattle. A large cup of American coffee and a bun or muffin seemed like a decent first breakfast. A familiar aroma drew us to the cafe around the corner. We were about to order breakfast sandwiches…the ones with streaky bacon, not sausage due to our fear that a Lorne lurked nearby…when I spotted something called Bircher. It was an oatmeal dish and yes, we were in oatmeal country!
Bircher turned out to be a creamy, fruity, nutty delight…fresh and tasty and stick to your ribs kind of food that fueled our long slog to the top of Edinburgh castle. We liked it so well, that every morning of our stay in Edinburgh, we sought out Bircher, an easy task once we discovered that another of those cafes was in a former haberdashery right next to our hotel. Breakfast became our favorite meal in Edinburgh…what a joy it was to sit by the huge display window with a view of the bustle of Prince Street, drink good strong coffee, and nosh on Bircher.
My version makes enough for 4 or 5 servings.
In a covered glass dish of sufficient size, soak 3 cups of old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal in a quantity of apple juice that will completely wet the oatmeal. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, remove to a bowl enough of the oats for the desired number of servings.
Shred a Gala or other juicy apple and add to the oatmeal.
Add about 2/3 cup of plain, unflavored, hopefully European style yogurt and fold it all together.
Serve in bowls and top with toasted, unsweetened coconut chips, soft fruit like blueberries or mango, or dried fruit like currants or cranberries. Nuts? Optional.