The Flat Cap on ... Porridge
Now that the weather has begun to get a bit colder The Flat Cap has been changing his diet. Wake up on a cold dark morning with frost on the ground and the last thing you want to find in your fridge are those bags of prepared salad. Forget the iced tea, you need a warming cup of Bovril, or Oxo. Soups also work, and it’s the same with foodstuffs. Probably the best wintry food is porridge. You don’t often see it on Mediterranean menus and you’d be hard pushed to find it amongst the tapas of Torremolinos in mid June. But on a mid winter’s morning porridge is warm and hearty and fills a gap. The Flat Cap has his own porridge eating season. It begins mid November and extends until early March. After that it’s back to corn flakes and coco pops. It was the arrival of the Porridge Season that got him thinking about its origins, so he determined to find out more.
Nowadays you can buy porridge in various forms. In the same way that you can buy cuppa soups, pot noodles, microwaveable rice, instant mashed potatoes and a host of other comestibles the oats based breakfast favourite is marketed in a number of guises. No longer does it only come in a cardboard box with a picture of some burly Scotsman in a kilt. Today porridge, or "porage" as they call it in Scotland, really is oat cuisine. Sold in sachets and plastic pots it’s the ultimate early morning superfood. Forget kilt wearing stereotypes because twenty first century porridge is just as likely to be eaten by pin stripe suited bankers on the go as it is by agricultural workers from Argyll. Coffee shops sell portable porridge and City types can’t get enough of it.
Part of the reason for porridge popularity has been clever marketing. Forget the lumpy grey mush your grandma used to serve up. Today’s oats are creamy and flavoursome. Ask for porridge in a top hotel restaurant and it’s likely to come garnished with slices of some random fresh fruit, or served with a pot of manuka honey. Gone are the days of boiling a pan of water, slapping in some oats, a pinch of salt and not caring if the end product looks like lumpy wallpaper paste.
Porridge is also jolly healthy. Unprocessed whole grain oats are high in fibre, furthermore they break down slowly thus providing sustained energy. This is why the Scott’s Porage Oats Man always looked so fresh despite putting the shot. Oats are also full of vitamins and good for lowering cholesterol. The Flat Cap thinks this is why he can eat chips and cake with no apparent ill effects. Another brilliant thing about oatmeal is that once digested it expands in your gut so making you feel full for hours and hours - great if you’re on a diet and don’t want to feel hungry all the time. Up until March 2015 Scotland’s oldest woman was a lady called Jessie Gallan. She lived to the ripe old age of 109 and attributed her longevity to a strong work ethic, staying away from men, and a warm bowl of porridge every morning.
The Flat Cap also discovered a number of porridge variations across the British Isles. In Scotland it is customary to serve the oats in a wooden bowl. However Scots are divided over whether they should add salt, sugar or a nip of whisky to flavour their porage and even today police forces are still responding to porage fuelled punch ups. In Wales porridge is called “uwd” and made with buttermilk. In Ireland they adopted the Scottish practice of adding whisky and labelled it a cure for the common cold. In England they just named any foodstuff that had a porridge like consistency “porridge”. Pease porridge for example has no oats in it at all, the same with the plumb porridge served up in Elizabethan times. The Flat Cap thinks that’s just lazy, confusing, and why the English language is so difficult to learn.
Having researched porridge all afternoon The Flat Cap nipped out to buy some more of his wintry breakfast staple. Along the aisles of his local Aldi he bumped into Alex from his local bowling club. Being Scottish and a bit of a know-it-all Alex volunteered the following porridge related facts:
Whilst everyone is familiar with the story of Goldilocks eating the three bears’ porridge early versions of the favourite fairy tale featured an old woman rather than a young girl with golden locks
“Doing porridge” is slang for serving a prison sentence. It derives from porridge being the traditional breakfast served up in British prisons. Nowadays inmates can choose from a selection of cereals and in 2016 Shredded Wheat was their favourite, although white collar criminals tended to prefer muesli
Including the pilot and Christmas specials there were only twenty one episodes of television sitcom Porridge. Featuring Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale it remains one of The Flat Cap’s favourite comedy programmes
Some instant porridge pots contain over 20 grams of sugar per 100 grams of porridge making them not very healthy at all. Alex says this is why there are so many fat kids and people with type 2 diabetes. Alex thinks this could all be solved by reinstating national service and refusing to fit gastric bands on the NHS
Since 1996 the Scottish Highlands village of Carrbridge has hosted the annual World Porridge Making Championship. Drawing competitors from across the globe the champion is awarded the coveted Golden Spurtle trophy. A spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen tool used to stir porridge
Gruel is just a watery version of porridge, so watery that you can even drink it
World Porridge Day is celebrated annually on the 10th of October
Charles Dickens’ hero Oliver Twist was told to do one after he asked Mr. Bumble, “please Sir, may I have some more [porridge]?”
More than 47 million gallons of porridge are eaten annually in the UK
The former British businessman and nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow always used to ask his barber to cut his hair so it looked like the man on the Quaker Oats box