I was browsing around Marks & Spencer when I found myself staring at the shelf in front of me. It was crammed with pots and pots of ready-made porridge.
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. And there are so many other things you can do with oats – such as add to crumble mixes or coat fish and chicken.
90g pinhead oatmeal
100ml full-fat milk
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste
Soak the pinhead oatmeal for 12 hours and drain off excess water.
Put the oatmeal in a pan with the milk and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the oats have softened (approx 20-25 mins). Then beat in the sugar, butter and spices.