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Ben Franklin's oatmeal

Rick Ryckeley's picture

What’s for breakfast around our house? Me, I like oatmeal, but I’m not on a diet and I’m not fat. I’m a little pudgy, but I’m not fat.

Just so happens that I’ve liked oatmeal ever since growing up at 110 Flamingo Street. Back then, slinging spoonfuls of the hot stuff and watching it stick to one of my brothers made eating breakfast actually fun, and I’m not alone. One of greatest men in this country simply loved to start the day off right with a steamy bowl of the hot oats.

Deborah Read, wife of 44 years, had two children and a stepson. All, I suspect, ate oatmeal for breakfast, oatmeal made from oats that came from Deborah’s country store located in front of Ben’s print shop.

That would be THE Ben Franklin. History books all agree that every morning good old Ben ate a breakfast consisting of oatmeal served in a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon.

His breakfast of choice was secret to none, and many famous sayings have been attributed to Ben about his obsession with the hot oats. Some translations have, of course, been changed over the years.

Over their long marriage, Deborah couldn’t stand to see this great man eat breakfast out of a plain wooden bowl. After many years, she finally ordered a shipment of the finest china and silver spoons France had to offer.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out so well. Ben, you see, was a simple man when it came to breakfast – one who was quite happy with the way his breakfast was served.

“Glass, china, and reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended,” he said. But wooden bowls are forever.

When hot oatmeal is served in a wooden bowl, the bowl doesn’t heat up. Not so with fine French china and silver spoons. Hot oatmeal served in a china bowl makes the bowl, and spoon, super hot.

So much so, the first time Ben grabbed the bowl, he immediately dropped it and instantly had a lapful of molten hot lava. Jumping to his feet, he yelled, “Fire! I’m on fire!”
Then he paused, and thought for a moment. Who do you call for help if there’s a fire?

You see the fire department hadn’t been invented – yet.

Hearing her husband’s desperate calls for help, Deborah threw a pound of flour on him trying to extinguish the fire. The smoke she saw was actually steam coming off the oatmeal still stuck to his pants.

Ben, now covered in flour from head to toe, started to laugh, “My dear, the oatmeal just needed an ounce of water to cool it down so I could eat it. All this could have been prevented.”

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Soon thereafter, in 1736, Ben Franklin started Philadelphia’s Union Fire Company – the first fire department, and good old Ben was the chief.

In 1743 Ben invented the Franklin stove – presumably to heat his print shop more efficiently, but I know the real reason.

Ben had a reputation for working long hours into the night and a hot meal was important. With the new efficient stove, water for his oatmeal could be ready quickly anytime day or night.

An inexhaustible inventor, in 1750, after a gastronomic mishap by candle light when he added what he thought were raisins, he invented electric lights so he could see what he was adding to (and what actually had crawled into) his oatmeal.

Soon after the raisin incident, Ben was elected to the Second Continental Congress. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later signed it. He’s the father of electricity, inventor of – I kid you not – swim fins and bifocals.

Because of his great contributions to this country, in 1776 good old Ben was made ambassador to the Court of Louis the XVI. He sailed across the big pond to France alone. Seems Deborah was afraid of crossing water.

But Ben was on a mission. Although well known for being a flirt and somewhat of a rascal, the trip wasn’t to charm the French ladies. My guess is he went all the way over there to give back that fancy French china bowl, silver spoon and get a refund. Back then old Ben saved every penny.

Ben Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” But lost over time is the last line of that saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned. And money well spent buys a bowl of hot oatmeal instead of overpriced French china.”

Like most of us, Ben Franklin didn’t need a lot. The love of his wife of 44 years, three children, and a hot bowl of oatmeal was really all he needed to enjoy life.

He didn’t need fancy china from France and a silver spoon to eat his breakfast. He was happy with a simple wooden bowl and spoon. Just because it’s more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better.

Or that it’ll make you happy.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His book is available at]

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