Um, I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but baby, well, it’s cold outside. Like snow day cold, like kerchief and cap and long winter’s nap cold, like the dog looks offended when I suggest that he go out cold, like effing cold.
So, I’m settling in. My slippers are in constant use. I’m breaking out some new pajamas. The larder is stocked and there’s a spare bottle of wine or two and a few DVDs around. And I am making scramble. Bring on the snow.
Scramble? Uh? What’s that? You talking about that scrapple stuff they eat down south?
Scramble is a kind of Chex Mix on steroids, but somehow so much more than that description would suggest. It is, truthfully, an old family recipe. But one that has gone long neglected.
Last summer, when I was visiting my Mom, I borrowed the little hard-bound green linen colored notebook in which my father had laboriously written his recipes, many of which he had gotten from his mother-in-law, my maternal grandmother. Among them was the recipe for Scramble, a snack which I had entirely forgotten. But as soon as I saw the recipe, I remembered my diminutive grandmother standing in front of a roasting pan almost half her size and stirring up mound of cereals and salty stuff into a savory, crunchy snack. My grandfather used to scoop it into cleaned out margarine tubs and enjoy it with his late afternoon martini. Sometimes he added M and Ms, but to the rest of us this was heresy. We preferred our salt unadulterated.
Truth be told, I didn’t like Scramble that much as a child. I did like picking out the pretzels and sometimes nuts, but the rest I could give or take. I decided to make some up this Christmas mostly from nostalgia and to send off to my siblings to see if it stirred their own memories.
But for my adult self, it turns out to be surprisingly addictive, a wonder mass of savory saltiness with a pleasing blend of textures. It’s great for grabbing on a quick, peckish pass through the kitchen and great for putting out (not in margarine tubs please!) with drinks. My children are more sophisticated than I was, I guess, as they are both quite happy to wolf it all down. Nick recommends it for breakfast. First thing in the morning, he’s on his customary morning perch on the kitchen counter, batting his eyelashes and cooing “Mama, could I have a little Scramble please?”
This is beyond easy to make, but a couple of caveats on ingredients. My grandmother’s recipe calls for a “small box” each of cheerios, wheat chex, rice chex and pretzels. Well, in the greedy 21st century, I have no idea what the 1950’s (or so) considered a small box. And when was the last time you saw pretzels in a box? (Another memory flash of navy blue boxes of Mister Salty pretzels: I believe Mister Salty was a sailor — you know, an old salt). But my guess here of 4-6 cups seems about right for the amount of oil. Speaking of the oil, I’ve swapped in canola for the Wesson suggested by the orginal recipe and that I believe was corn oil, with no discernible difference as far as my taste memory can tell.
Finally, the spices include garlic and onion salt, compounds that I’ve come to consider a bit of an abomination in recent years. What’s wrong with real garlic and real salt, for god’s sake? But hey, it’s a snack mix; compromise your standards a bit. I don’t think Alice Waters will be making any of this up. But I bet she wouldn’t mind some with a martini.
4-6 cups Cheerios or other multigrain “O” cereal
4-6 cups Wheat Chex
4-6 cups Rice Chex
4-6 cups thin pretzel sticks
2 lbs. mixed nuts
2 cups canola oil
1 T worchester sauce
1 T onion salt
1 T garlic salt
1 T celery seed
Preheat oven to 200 degrees
Combine cereals, nuts and pretzels in a large roasting pan. Whisk together oil, worchester sauce and spices. Pour over dry ingredients and mix gently. Bake for two hours in the oven, stirring occasionally, until aromatic and crispy.
This can be eaten warm (and at least a little of it should be), but there will be mountains of the stuff, so store in plastic bags, glass jars or storage tins. Give away a lot of it or find yourself overstuffed and with greasy fingers, yet unable to resist going back to the kitchen for another handful.