Anyone who knows and loves me knows that I am a great fan of bacon – smoked back, dry cure if possible, British back bacon, grilled to my idea of perfection and ideally served with scrambled or poached eggs, black pudding, red pudding, good quality pork sausages and mushrooms. And I’ve been known to add haggis into the mix, and in Ireland white pudding. Yup a proper cooked breakfast. In days gone by I enjoyed fried bread too, but seem to have lost the taste for it over the years. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at bread dipped in bacon fat though, even now. (Remind me again why I needed to diet?) I used to really enjoy doing a cooked breakfast on a Sunday morning when we were still in London and serving it to family and whatever waifs and strays were staying over that night. This amazing meal would then keep us going until the family meal in the evening. Sundays were epicurean excellence for me, and I can’t tell you how much I miss those brunches (as they inevitably were – no-one got up very early on a Sunday), and those Sunday evening meals.
Now most of the cooked breakfast fits in with the high protein, low carbohydrate style of eating but honestly they don’t really keep you going. There has been much in the news recently about the advantages of eating porridge and how good oats are for lowering your cholesterol and that porridge is in fact the best meal to keep you going through to lunch without any hunger pangs. I am also an expert on porridge, on the eating of it, that is. I knew the weather had turned cold when Papa offered porridge in the mornings and it was he who taught me to make it. Now Papa liked his porridge thick so that it would ‘stick to your ribs’ and keep you warm. Grandma didn’t like hers quite so thick. (Just realised that there are shades of the Goldilocks tale in this!) I didn’t care so long as someone else was making it for me.
I remember that when we still had milk delivered in bottles, and therefore still had a top of the milk, ie, cream that gathered at the top of the bottle, we all preferred the top of the milk on our porridge. I can still hear Papa (who got up first, made the porridge and thus almost inevitably got the top of the milk) shouting at us to finish one milk bottle before we opened another. I don’t remember taking any notice though. Sometimes I carefully poured the milk around the edge of the bowl, sometimes I put the milk in a cup so that it stayed cold and dipped a spoonful of porridge into that cup. I always sprinkled sugar on top. I can see Papa ladling sugar or golden syrup onto his, and happily telling me how his grandfather had warned him that he would get diabetes because of his sweet tooth. Papa had also eaten sugar sandwiches as a child. And of course sadly his grandfather was right. It was hard for Papa to learn to eat porridge without sweetener, but he did. I too have learnt to enjoy it without sweetener but it took a while. I still prefer full fat milk though – I would rather eat porridge ‘nude’ than with skimmed milk.
Papa used to say that in the olden days, when winters were hard in Scotland extra porridge was made and it was spread into a drawer, where it hardened and was then cut into pieces for lunch for the workers. Sounds grim.
Anyway, today’s recipe is Porridge. The recipe is simple, but you have to remember to stir with your left hand in a figure of eight – this is the way I was shown by Papa (who was left-handed) and it seems wrong to use my right hand. No idea why it has to be done in a figure of eight but since it’s always worked, I’m not changing it. Ideally you will be using a spurtle but a wooden spoon works just as well. Porridge pans can be horrible to clean, so as soon as you’ve served it, fill the pan with warm water. Latterly Grandma and Papa made their porridge in the microwave because it was quicker and you didn’t have to clean a pan. Unbelievably I’ve never done this. I enjoy stirring the pot, thinking of Papa every time and laughing at the fact that I still believe that I have to do it left-handed.
- 280 ml / 1/2 pint water
- 2 heaped tbsp oats – I tend to use rolled oats because you don’t have to think. Papa’s favourite was pin head oatmeal, but he soaked the oats overnight. It’s worth buying good quality oats – they last forever and the difference in the porridge is worth it.
- Pinch of salt – it is not Scottish porridge without the salt.
Put all the ingredients into a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring often. Simmer for about 7 mins, stirring all the time, until it’s the required thickness. Leave to stand for a minute and serve into warmed bowls. Serve with sugar, honey or syrup and cold cold milk. I doubt you’ll find top of the milk nowadays!