Porridge can be made from just about any grain that has been hulled and mechanically broken in some manner. It is then cooked in milk or water until soft. But oats are by far the most common grain used, and they are available rolled, steel-cut and stone-ground.
Oatmeal has a long tradition in Scotland, where in many areas very few crops could be grown in the climatic conditions and the poorly drained soils. Oats and barley were the exceptions. Oats do particularly well in the long summer days experienced in Scotland.
So for many Scots, oats were the staple crop and diet. Until the advent of industrial processing, the crop would be stone ground at a watermill. The water-powered New Abbey Corn Mill has been carefully restored to demonstrate to visitors how oatmeal is produced. They have also produced an on-line teachers guide which includes many pictures and diagrams of the mill. The coarsest stoneground oats are termed pinhead oats, which resembles steelcut oats.
A lot of oats were eaten as 'brose'. The oatmeal was placed in a bowl, and covered with boiling water. A pat of butter might be added, then the bowl covered with a plate to let the brose cook in its own steam for five minutes. Then milk would be added and the brose eaten. Because it doesn't have time to swell as much as fully cooked porridge, a larger mass could be eaten in one meal, hence the idea that a bowl of oats for breakfast will last one all day.
A Treatise on Food and Diet, published in 1843 in New York, has an even more bizarre sub-title, 'with observations on the dietical regimen suited for disordered states of the digestive organs; and an account of the dietaries of some of the principal metropolitan and other establishments for paupers, lunatics, criminals, children, the sick &c'. It has several pages devoted to oats, including analyses of their composition, preparation and health effects.
Today, most porridge is cooked with rolled oats, which are processed by steaming the oats and rolling them into flakes.
Stoats Porridge Bars are the world's first chain of mobile porridge bars, and they promote porridge as 'the alternative fuel for the healthy body'. Using their own blend of organic oats they create tasty, textured porridge in a variety of flavors to feed customers at festivals and farmers' markets.
But many porridge gourmets recommend using steel-cut oats. This process chops each seed into three or four chunks, so it produces a porridge with a much chewier texture. You can read how McCann's process steel-cut and rolled oats in The Story of Oats.
In 2011, Bob's Red Mill ran a Spar for the Spurtle competition to find someone to represent them at the Golden Spurtle competition.
Alton Brown, presenter of Good Eats, devoted a whole show to oats. You can read all the details in a transcript of the show, Oat Cuisine. He covered the history of oats, how to cook it and why it is so good for you.
The Quaker Oats website stresses the health benefits of oatmeal. Apparently it can reduce cholesterol, and eating fiber may keep your blood glucose from rising too fast after you eat. Oats are gluten free, making them one of the few grains that sufferers of celiac disease can eat. Cream Hill Estates guarantee that their oats are pure and free of cross-contamination with wheat, barley, rye, and other grains that are closely related to wheat.
When Marg Meikle decided to raise money for research into Parkinson's disease, she knew it would have to be a morning event, since that is when her drugs best control this debilitating disease. Being of Scottish ancestry, a porridge breakfast was the natural choice. It was a huge success and raised $16,000. Now similar events are being organized across Canada. To learn more about this event, and how to organize your own fundraiser, check out the Porridge for Parkinson's website.
News Articles: How to cook perfect porridge. Is porridge the ultimate winter breakfast, or a gruel best left in the past? Do you prefer yours basic, austere even, or luxurious? Spurtles make for prize porridge Ancient Scottish tool also great for smooth sauce, soup and stew. Meet Anna, the Porridge Lady Anna Louise Batchelor, aka Porridge Lady, the 2009 holder of the speciality trophy for the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championships, with some ideas on how to add something healthy to your meals. Health conscious consumers drive UK oat sales The growing popularity of the Glycaemic Index diet (GI), a regime that promotes foods with a slow release of sugar, has boosted demand for oat-based products. How to make perfect porridge Porridge is making a comeback as the new oat cuisine – but which recipe to follow? By Sybil Kapoor, The Guardian, 7 January 2010 Feeling your oats doesn't have to be dreary What the oat lacks in glamour, it makes up in nutrition -- and oats reduce sweets craving. Save your breath to cool your porridge "Eat your porridge, it's good for you," was something Gerry Kissack never heard as a child. He re-discovers the right ingredients to make a really tasty breakfast. (Globe and Mail) Oat cuisine is best served cold Some ideas for eating your oatmeal cold, by Claire Sawers, The Scotsman. Porridge: a stirring story The popularity of porridge is on the rise from a murky past to its popularity as a healthy food and the opening of a porridge bar in Edinburgh, by Alistair McKay, The Scotsman. Twenty reasons to eat porridge oats, Angela Epstein, Daily Mail. Porridge is the new fast food, more on the Stoats Porridge Bars, but 'when it comes to stirring the owner pays little heed to old wives' tales which recommend using only wooden spurtles'. By Claire Sawers, The Scotsman. On porridge, an article by Tom Doorley in the Galway Independent about the benefits of eating porridge. He claims to be one of the few people in Ireland to own a spurtle. That can't be right can it?