I spent the spring semester of my junior year in Maine, at a tiny school for environmental studies run by the Chewonki Foundation. Thirty students live in cabins on a peninsula jutting into the Sheepscot River. We studied, did farm chores, mucked about in salt flats, and adventured a lot. We also ate some of the best granola I ever tasted. I don’t know what it’s called, or where to by it. But I’ve tried to recreate it.
At Chewonki, the students are divided into dish crews of ten people. You take your shift a few times a week, stacking plates and glasses onto plastic racks and sliding them into an industrial-sized dishwasher. Wielding a hose attached to the ceiling, you spray down the racks, and sometimes the rest of the dish crew, breaking ranks into wild, soap-slicked water fights.
Once the dishes are finished, we slip outside through the kitchen. I detour into the pantry to sneak fistfuls of granola: clumpy with maple syrup, crunchy with olive oil, and studded with almonds and dried fruit. It has a hint of salt, an addictive toasty taste, and I find it in my pockets days later.
This is the kind of granola you pack on a hike. Open it at the summit, on a broad rocky outcropping, when the green mountain range is laid out in front of you like a soft, rumpled blanket.
Pack it for a canoe trip: Eat it when you’re sweaty, with burning sore arms, when the tip of your boat crunches into a pebbled beach. Pull your canoe into the sand. Sit on a log, peel open your slightly damp backpack, and reach for this granola. Eat it – swatting at mosquitos – watching the fog swirl on the lake in front of you.
There are many granola recipes to choose from. I suggest finding a base recipe you like (with a good balance of sweetener and fats and liquid) and tinkering from there. You can add dried spices in with the oats and choose any nuts, fruits, and add-ins you like. The balance of dry to wet ingredients is the key: The right amount gives you a clumpy, crunchy granola that isn’t overly sweet or sticky.
Almond Coconut Granola
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup coconut oil (at room temperature)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
pinch of salt
1/2 cup dried mulberries
Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, and salt. Add the coconut oil and maple syrup and mix well.
Spread the oat mixture evenly on a baking sheet. Bake the granola for 20 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the granola in the warm oven for another 20 minutes (keep an eye on it -- if it's getting too dark brown, take it out).
Once cooled, stir in the dried mulberries.