Sunday, January 10, 2010

A paean of praise to porridge

I found this delightful essay by Lady Claire Macdonald in the UK Daily Mail (scroll down to the bottom of the linked article to find it).

I'm passionate about porridge. So I'm thrilled that it is enjoying such a revival. McDonald's is branching out with bowls of it. And supermarkets are crammed with every flavour imaginable.

With temperatures plummeting and snow falling, it's the perfect time to enjoy the original comfort food. It's filling, it's nutritious and it's full of health benefits. Porridge has the proportion of protein needed for repair and growth in the body and boosts the immune system. It's also rich in soluble fibre, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.

It's high in vitamin B6, which promotes the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. And the slow releasing carbohydrates in oats sustain energy levels. Porridge has always been a fantastic fast food. But it fell out of favour when we became too busy to wash up the hideously sticky pans. That is no longer a problem - use a non-stick pan.

My first introduction to porridge came soon after I arrived in Scotland as a young bride. I was staying in this fantastic old house where our fellow guests were the judges of the piping section of the Highland Games.

I watched in fascination as one of the three - a sprightly looking man in his late 70s - proceeded to eat porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I realised then how seriously the Scots take their porridge.

There's even an annual porridge-making competition in Aviemore. Traditions abound.

Some people will only eat their porridge standing up. Purists swear that porridge should never be eaten with anything other than a dash of salt. Others insist on eating their porridge washed down with whisky.

And then there's the question of how you stir your oats. Traditionalists use a spurtle - a stick specially produced for porridge stirring.

You can understand why the Scots are so passionate about their porridge. It was their staple diet for generations. Bonnie Prince Charlie's followers went into battle at Culloden with slabs of cold porridge tucked under their tartan cloaks. They lost, but they still swore by their porridge.

While other nations were tucking into pasta and rice, the Scots were eating porridge slabs: oats mixed with water and salt, allowed to go cold and then sliced into pieces.

Porridge is easy to make. You just need the right ingredients and the right equipment.

Oats come in four main sizes: pinhead, fine, medium and coarse. Freshly harvested oats contain 14 per cent moisture, so they have to be dried and toasted to develop their flavour.

You don't need milk - porridge has its own creamy consistency. I love heaping demerara sugar on my porridge. It is so versatile you can add anything: bananas, strawberries, honey.

I enjoy porridge (perhaps due to my Scottish heritage, I like it in simpler forms such as 'brose', which I suppose might be described as the peasant form of porridge). I also like the old tradition of having porridge on a cold night, and adding a tot of Scotch whisky to it. Ambrosial!



Anonymous said...

I agree, there is nothing better on a cold morning. I mean, besides not going out in it.


Anonymous said...

So is porridge just a different word for "oatmeal" (and I'm not referring to the instant stuff)? I've taken to eating whole grains (wheat, oats, and rye) with a dash of salt and a little maple syrup. Yum!