Listened to Porridge: Not your usual all-day breakfast by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast

Kahlova cafe in EstoniaPorridge, for me, is made of oats, water, a bit of milk and a pinch of salt. Accompaniments are butter and brown sugar or, better yet, treacle, though I have nothing against people who add milk or even cream. So, while I’ve been aware of the inexorable rise of porridge in all its forms, I’ve been blissfully ignorant of the details. When I make, or eat, a risotto or a dal, I certainly don’t think of it as a porridge. Maybe now I will, and all because Laura Valli took the trouble to send me a copy of her research paper Porridge Renaissance and the Communities of Ingestion.

We had fun chatting about porridge, about how she helped start the only porridge cafe in her native Estonia, and about her participation in the World Porridge Making Championship last year, in Carrbridge, Scotland. As a result of which, despite the fact that I am usually the last person in the world to know about the international day of this, that or the other, I’m totally ready for Thursday 10 October and World Porridge Day.

Notes

  1. Thank you Laura for getting in touch and for your photos.
  2. On the spurtle, I welcome further details on why you should use one. In the meantime, I note that Neal Robertson, two time winner of the Golden Spurtle, despite having a quiver-full of spurtles to his name, uses a spoon in this video demonstration
  3. More on the 26th Annual Golden Spurtle® World Porridge Making Championship® and World Porridge Day
  4. NPR had a great article about Norway’s Traditional Porridge last year.
  5. Music adapted from bagpipe shredding by zagi2.

A podcast episode that answers many burning questions I’ve long had about spurtles. I remember a few years back reading the back of a package of Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut oats and their extended story of winning the Golden Spurtle which was almost written as ad copy in the style of the J. Peterman Company. Upon looking, I notice that Bob’s website has a Golden Spurtle specific tag, and honestly what self-respecting website wouldn’t? In any case, god bless Jeremy for digging into the science behind the spurtle, though it’s painful remiss that he didn’t link to any of his sources there. My only additions on the speculations about spurtles are:

  • From a historical perspective, having been made in the 1500’s when cooking fuel was at a higher premium and people may have been more likely to cook in larger/deeper pots over fire, a long thinner spurtle would have been somewhat easier to spin around in a deeper pot, particularly with more viscous porridges compared with soups which may be easier stirred by spoon. 
  • From a manufacturing perspective in the 1500’s, it’s far easier to turn a piece of wood into a decorative cylindrical spurtle, than it is to make a spoon. 
  • Without a flat spoon-like eating surface, using a spurtle makes it more difficult for passing family members to  sample the porridge as it’s cooking.

I’m not sure Jeremy got to the root of his question about why porridge was hip and trendy, but I suspect that some of it goes down to the whole grain movement and the rising popularity of “exotic” grains like quinoa, which I recall he’s commented on before. Of course, many restaurants I visit will have at least a simple oatmeal on their breakfast menu, often for $10 or more and there’s nothing that will make food seem more mod than a 1000+% mark up on its fair market value. That combined with the comfort food aspect seems to get people every time, particularly when it’s difficult to mess up a porridge.

I will admit I’ve been eating a lot more porridge over the past few years, but part of it is the fact that I acquired a rice cooker which has a workable porridge setting that allows my grains to soak overnight and then automatically cook so that breakfast is waiting when I rise. My favorite is generally brown sugar with ripe strawberries and a splash of cream.

I was disappointed not to find Laura Valli’s paper Porridge Renaissance and the Communities of Ingestion linked to in the show notes, but apparently it’s because it either isn’t yet published or available online.

I note that Neal Robertson, two time winner of the Golden Spurtle, despite having a quiver-full of spurtles to his name, uses a spoon in this video demonstration.

Jeremy buries the lede here that Neal is also sporting a serious arm tattoo that reads “World Porridge Champion 10.10.10”! Though I do wonder where he keeps the golden spurtle?

I will also admit that as I was making breakfast this morning, my choice of podcast was a bit biased.

Blue bowl of oatmeal with treacle and blueberries
Today’s breakfast.