Last weekend saw the wonderful World Porridge Making Championships take place in the small village of Carrbridge in the Scottish Highlands. And this year the title has returned to Scotland, to the safe hands of Neal Robertson, who runs the Tannochbrae Tearoom in Fife. Last year’s winner was Matthew Cox of Portland, Oregon.
The competition is organised by the Golden Spurtle, an organisation named after the traditional rod-shaped instrument used to stir the porridge (or porage if you prefer). Neal Robertson however, spurned the spurtle and used his own invention, a spon, or double backed spoon. Rules for the competition are strict and are awarded to the best porridge made from untreated oatmeal and not oat flakes, with just water and salt. Judges, who may add milk cream or sugar for tasting the porridge, award the prize on taste, consistency and colour.
A further prize is made for a speciality porridge made with added ingredients. This year the winner was Catherine Caldwell from Calgary, Canada with her Canadian Cranberry Apple Crunch.
Many people (myself included) may still have porridge for breakfast, but porridge and gruel have pretty much disappeared from recipe books. I wouldn’t have given this much thought, until, when researching Early Vegetarian Recipes, I discovered that many of the books I read had chapters devoted to the subject! There is however a surprising variety in the recipes – they aren’t all made with oats, some are savoury and they tend to come laced with sugar, dried fruit, molasses, nutmeg and lemon juice. Here’s a couple of the old recipes for inspiration.
George Nicholson 1803
Barley – Of this grain a rich substance may be composed, by taking one pound of it in a hulled sate and steeping it a sufficient time in milk. The milk and the barley may then be slightly boiled. Cream, mace, cinnamon, salt, and sugar may be added.
Vegetarian Cookery by a Lady 1866
Currant Gruel – To a quart of oatmeal gruel, strained, add two table-spoonfuls of currants, and after boiling a few minutes, add sugar and nutmeg.