I love cereal. I wanted a cereal bar at my wedding rather than an actual meal, but reactions ranged from laughter followed by “oh, you’re not joking?” to “I will literally take my gift back if you do that.”
I’m not talking any old cereal, though. Offer me a bowl of muesli and I will end our friendship right there on the spot. Same goes for plain Shredded Wheat, Special K or Fruit and Fibre (actually, anything with ‘fruit’ in the title.) No, good cereal has to be so sweet it could melt my face and it has to come in small pieces (piss off, Weetabix). There are many lists online ranking the top cereal choices but I have yet to find one that is truly accurate and so I present a world wide exclusive: the first correct ranking of the top five UK cereals.
The top 5 UK cereals…
- Cocopops. It’s a surprise to no one; this cheeky little contender has been top of my list since I could eat. I have never met a person who doesn’t like Cocopops – and I don’t want to. Cocopops are so small you can eat a half a family sized box in one go without feeling too bad, they transform your milk into chocolate milkshake and if you drizzle a spoon of double cream over the top of them they clump together and you get a mouthful of delicious chocolatey, creamy goodness.
- Frosties. I’m happy with branded or unbranded to be honest. These are my go to when I crave a sugar hit. I eat them straight out of the bag, standing over the sink like a first year undergrad student and not like the 28 year old married mother I am.
- Crunchy Nut Clusters. Here’s the thing – no one knows what these are. No one knows what makes the clusters taste like that. On the packet it just says ‘wheat and rice flakes’, but I’ve been eating wheat and rice for a long time now and I’ve never known them to taste as good as whatever these are. They could be little balls of crack cocaine for all I know. They probably are little balls of crack cocaine given how addictive they are.
- Bran Flakes with sugar and sprinkles. A controversial choice but hear me out. People love rebelling, right? Me too. But I don’t love actually getting into trouble. The most rebellious thing I’ve ever done is press the bell on a bus and then not get off when it stopped (and that was an accident anyway.) So here’s what you do: take the most boring, grown up cereal available – nothing more than dehydrated cardboard, really – and you slather it in full fat milk. Now it’s marginally more edible. Then you get a bag of really cheap uber refined white sugar and a ladle and you go to town on it. Once the Bran Flakes have mostly been covered, dig out some cake decorations: hundreds and thousands, silver balls, jelly diamonds – whatever you like. Decorate and serve. This one WILL get you in trouble with your dentist but you only have to see them twice a year anyway.
- Frosted shreddies. Not as good as their bog standard Frosties cousins, because once the sugariness has melted into the milk you are essentially just left with a bowl of pap, but still good in a pinch.
Runners up include Cinnamon Grahams (I will not call them Curiously Cinnamon – not now, not ever), mini chocolate Weetabix and Cookie Crisp (when eaten dry – as soon as you add milk to them they’re ruined.)
…The worst UK cereals.
For balance I have also included the top 5 worst cereals.
- Muesli. There isn’t one adult alive who disagrees, no matter how zen and clean eating they are.
- Bircher muesli. See above.
- Literally anything with dried fruit. Dried fruit is really sugar dense, so why do these cereals try and market themselves as a healthy option? If you’re getting your sugary kicks from freeze dried strawberries or teeny tiny raisins then please stop, have a look at yourself, and get hold of some Frosties instead.
- Sugar Puffs. You’d think I’d be all about these, right? Nope. They taste burned, they’re too chewy and the monster on the front looks like a perv.
- Golden Nuggets. Just thinking about how soft and melty they go round the edges makes me feel a bit sick. It’s like eating foam.
What’s the point of this?
Just doing my job as an educator.
Sadly for them, the people of 19th century Britain didn’t have access to Cocopops or Frosties. They were lucky if they could get hold of some muesli. Imagine! Lucky!
The first ready to eat breakfast cereal was an American creation called Granula, in 1863. In Britain, ready to eat cereal didn’t appear until 1902 when Force brought Wheat Flakes over to the country from America. But that didn’t mean that the idea of eating something wholesome in milk in the morning was non existent until this point; evidence of porridge like meals have been found in Britain dating from 2500 years ago.
This is where Lumpy Tums comes in, with possibly the cutest name ever. The first reference to it is in Thomas Wright’s Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English: Containing Words from the English Writers, where it is called Lumpy-Jumms. In 1881 it crops up again in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily, being described as “the porridge of our forefathers”. Both references imply it is an incredibly simple but wholesome dish.
Lumpy Tums, still eaten in some parts of the UK, are made of oatmeal which is sprinkled with water, squeezed into firm balls and then boiled before being served in pools of hot milk. They were originally from the Peak District, where oats grew particularly well, but filtered down to the Midlands over time – anywhere where farming communities needed sustenance on a budget. The beauty of Lumpy Tums was that they were adaptable depending on individual circumstances; you could eat them with honey, butter, treacle or plain, but the core ingredients always stayed the same: oats and water.
I have to admit that a bowl of boiled oat balls without anything added to it sounded like it belonged on my worst UK cereals list. As I read more of the Gazette’s opinion on Lumpy Tums, my concern grew: “It is not too much to say that we should not have subdued India, or peopled the Colonies, or destroyed the Armada, or won Gibraltar, or conquered Napoleon, charged at Balaclava, or stormed the gates of Delhi, but for porridge!” I didn’t have the desire to do any of this, but I appreciated the flex it took to attribute some of the brutalities of the British Empire to a hearty breakfast and not, say, pathologically racist ideologies of the time.
Anyway. I began tentatively (lest I became overwhelmed with an urge to invade South Asia or declare war on France) by weighing out 100g of Scottish oatmeal and adding 3 tablespoons of water. The mixture took some squidging, but eventually I was able to form small balls the “size of a nut”, as suggested. I had already heated a pan of water to boil so I cooked these in batches of five for about four or five minutes. Trying to remain positive about how simple and tasteless these seemed, I considered that they had already met one of my criteria for Good Cereal – small pieces.
I heated a bowl of milk to just below boiling and plopped the boiled Tums into it. They sat, a little underwhelming, in the pool of steaming milk. I deliberately chose full fat milk as this was closest to the type people would have had in the mid 19th century and I hoped adding a little creaminess would help improve the blandness.
There’s not a lot to say about the taste; it was like eating balls of plain porridge. Inoffensive and warming, but not exciting. The texture was more interesting than the taste. I’d expected these to disintegrate in the boiling water but they held their shape well and could even be sliced clean in half. They were far chewier than regular porridge, which I quite liked. Eating them with hot milk was far better than eating them with cold milk – it just felt more right, somehow. Perhaps it was because the heat added another element to an otherwise fairly boring meal.
Fortunately for me, Lumpy Tums could also be enjoyed in ways other than plain. I experimented with honey and treacle, finding a good drizzle of honey improved the taste significantly, and eventually ended up on Paul Couchman – The Regency Cook‘s excellent Twitter account, which had fortuitously posted an excerpt of Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe for Hasty Pudding, another oatmeal and water concoction.
At the bottom of the excerpt, Glasse recommended eating Hasty Pudding with sugar and wine. I quickly spooned a liberal helping of sugar onto the Lumpy Tums (abstaining from wine as it was still fairly early and I was unsure whether a glass of wine mixed into a bowl of milk would work well or not) and finished them up.
As interesting a way to eat porridge as these were, I think at the end of the day (or the start of the day?) I’d still rather have a bowl of Cocopops.
3 tablespoons of water
A cereal bowl of milk
Sugar, honey or any other alternatives you prefer
- Bring a pan of water to the boil.
- Pour 3 tablespoons of cold water into the oatmeal and mix until it is combined and you can form solid round lumps by squeezing it in your hand.
- Roll the oatmeal into balls and gently place into a pan of boiling water.
- Cook each ball for four to five minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon. Leave to drain for a minute or two on a plate.
- Heat the milk to just below boiling and add it to a bowl.
- Place the Lumpy Tums into the boiling milk and add whatever toppings you like. Eat.
- Declare war on France.