Porridge News and articles from around the world
Porridge (also spelt porage, parritch, etc. is a dish made by boiling oats (rolled, crushed, or steel cut) or other cereal meals in water, milk, or both. It is usually served hot in a bowl or dish. Other grains or legumes may be used, although dishes prepared with other ingredients are often referred to by other names, such as polenta or grits.
Oat and semolina porridge are the most popular varieties in many countries. In addition to oats, cereal meals used for porridge include rice, wheat, barley, and corn. Legumes such as peasemeal can also be used to make porridge. Gruel is similar to porridge but is much more like a drink; it has a very thin consistency and is made with water. It was served in Victorian workhouses as a standard meal.
Porridge was a traditional food in much of Northern Europe and Russia. Barley was a common grain used, though other grains and yellow peas could be used, depending on local conditions. It was primarily a savory dish, with a variety of meats, root crops, vegetables, and herbs added for flavor. Porridge could be cooked in a large metal kettle over hot coals, or heated in a cheaper earthenwarecontainer by adding hot stones until boiling hot. Until leavened bread and baking ovens became commonplace in Europe, porridge was a typical means of preparing cereal crops for the table. It was also commonly used as prison food for inmates in the UK prison system and so “doing porridge” became a slang term for a sentence in prison.
In many modern cultures, porridge is eaten as a breakfast dish, often with the addition of salt, butter, sugar, milk or cream, depending on regional preferences. In the English-speaking Caribbean islands it is common to add cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and almond essence to the oats, water and milk. Some manufacturers of breakfast cereal, such as Scott’s Porage Oats, sell ready-made versions. Porridge is one of the easiest ways to digest grains or legumes, and is used traditionally in many cultures as a food to nurse the sick back to health. It is also commonly eaten by athletesin training.
We are indebted to Annita, our Scottish Guest Chef for providing us with the following article about porridge. You can find Anita on
Annita’s Easy Vegetarian Recipes
Porridge: a stirring story
Published on Sunday 15 January 2006 00:18
PORRIDGE has not always had a good press. True, ‘porridge oats’ appear in the Ian Dury song, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’, just after ‘Fanny Smith and Willy’ and ‘Being rather silly’. But more often – not just in Oliver Twist in which “each boy had one porringer, and no more – except on occasions of great public rejoicing” – it has been viewed as a watery symbol of deprivation.
The most pungent and patronising of these references is Dr Johnson’s observation that oats were “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people”.
Porridge, as Ronnie Barker understood, is a shorthand for punishment, and the culinary poverty of the Scots. These days, this attitude has hardened somewhat. If you listen for long enough in the wrong places, you may even hear the term “porridge wogs” used to express a general resentment about Scottishness.
Culinary racism is a long-standing tradition, though it is usually expressed more gently. Cosmo Gordon Lang (Archbishop of Canterbury 1928-42) once insulted an Edinburgh audience by flattering them with the observation: “If you take the shorter catechism, the psalms, and Sir Walter Scott, and mix them with porridge, you will breed a great race of men.”
George Orwell, whose dislike of Scottish things was not aided by his tubercular years on Jura, opened his novel about the dreariness of life among the lower middle classes, Keep The Aspidistra Flying, by ruminating on the origins of the name of his hero, Gordon Comstock. “The ‘Gordon’ part of it was Scotch, of course. The prevalence of such names nowadays is merely a part of the Scotchification of England that has been going on these last 50 years. ‘Gordon’, ‘Colin’, ‘Malcolm’, ‘Donald’ – these are the gifts of Scotland to the world, along with golf, whisky, porridge, and the works of Barrie and Stevenson.”
The ambiguity of that compliment is made plain in Orwell’s autobiographical writing, where he reflected on the horror of the regime in his English prep school, focusing on one “filthy detail”; the pewter bowls from which the daily dose was administered. “They had overhanging rims, and under the rims there were accumulations of sour porridge, which could be flaked off in long strips. The porridge itself, too, contained more lumps, hairs and more unexplained black things than one would have thought possible, unless someone were putting them there on purpose.”
Today, though, porridge has undergone something of a makeover. Its current fashionability is due in large part to the popularity of the GI Diet, which promotes foods with a low glycaemic index. It is also a good source of complex carbohydrates, which release energy slowly into the bloodstream. The oats are wholegrain. They have the natural goodness that is absent from processed cereals, and they can lower cholesterol and reduce constipation. The oats can also reduce the risk of diabetes and, apparently, aid the libido. Among the other benefits claimed for porridge are: the ability to quell hangovers, heal the skin, pep up the immune system, tackle obesity, counter depression, reduce blood pressure and aid pregnancy.
Scotland on Sunday food writer Sue Lawrence – a judge in the annual Golden Spurtle global porridge-making contest – says it is this growing awareness of the health benefits that have led to the growing fashionability of porridge, along with a growing appreciation of “peasant” foods.
“We’re realising that it’s such a healthy food, and why on earth did we give it up in the first place? Everybody always used to eat porridge in Scotland and then we went onto the horrible sugary cereals. Porridge is part of our heritage and at last we’re realising that we should get back to the way we used to eat.”
The cook Clarissa Dickson Wright has personal experience of the health-giving properties of porridge. “I remember when I had adhesions on a scar that I’d had after an operation, and the specialist, a Scotsman, said to me: ‘Eat porridge’. At that point I’d rather stopped eating porridge every day, and within two or three weeks the adhesions had stopped sticking to themselves. I then got terribly obsessed.”
Before becoming our national dish, porridge has a mottled history. The Roman armies were fed on oatmeal, and 18th-century recipe books contain instructions for an attractively-named “Water Gruel”. Guthrie Hutton’s book, A Bowl of Porridge, notes the existence of an anti-Jacobite song in which Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops were derided for cooking oatmeal in cold water. The sense that porridge is a food of the poor is underlined in Stevenson’s Kidnapped, where the miserly Ebenezer Balfour chows down on a bowl of oats, despite his huge wealth, exclaiming: “They’re fine, halesome food – they’re grand food, parritch.”
Most cooks agreed on the recipe of this fine, wholesome food. The current holder of the prestigious Golden Spurtle, Lynn Benge of the Pines Country House at Duthil, Carrbridge, recommends one cup oatmeal, 3 equal cups of water, 1 cup milk, oz knob of butter, and teaspoon of salt. Traditionalists may balk at the butter, and some will prefer to use water not milk, but all are agreed on the method: add the oats to the pan, add the liquid, and stir. “Bring to the boil, add butter and salt, keep stirring. Stir until thickens.”
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