The True Scots Receipt For Porridge

A tautology, true by definition, as in “no true Scot would ha’ it otherwise!”

And other foods from Scotland…

The close relationship for centuries between Scotland and France left many influences, though not as much for simple basic foods.


>Bring the water to the boil and as soon as it reaches boiling-point add the oatmeal, letting it fall in a steady rain and stirring it briskly the while with the right, sunwise, or the right-turn for luck – and convenience. A porridge-stick, called a spurtle, and in some parts a theevil, or, as in Shetland, a gruel-tree, is used for this purpose. Be careful to avoid lumps, unless the children clamour for them.

When the porridge is boiling steadily, draw the mixture to the side and put on the lid. Let it cook for from twenty to thirty minutes according to the quality of the oatmeal, and do not add the salt, which has a tendency to harden the meal and prevent its swelling, until it has cooked for at least ten minutes. On the other hand, never cook porridge without salt. Ladle straight into porringers or soup-plates and serve with small individual bowls of cream, or milk, or buttermilk. Each spoonful of porridge, which should be very hot, is dipped in the cream or milk, which should be quite cold, before it is conveyed to the mouth.

Children often like a layer of sugar, honey, syrup, or treacle, or of raw oatmeal on top. A morsel of butter in the centre of the plate agrees with some digestions better than milk.

Quick oats…
I have a hand grinder I use with whole grains such as hulled oat groats, hulled barley and naked barley. I found by accident that the ~1/4 combination of barley and oats gave the flavor I often tried for with oats alone, as if the oats had been toasted. Rolled oats have been heated and steamed to remove the hulls, that may change the flavor somewhat too. Long ago in Scotland the “quick” method to make oat porridge was for the housewife to take a sheaf of oats, set fire to the tops and at the right moment slap them against the knee so the toasted hulled oat would fall off.

Porter, skeachan, and brisk small beer used to be popular accompaniments to porridge. In his poem “Scotch Drink” (which in his day was ale) Burns writes:

The poor man’s wine,
His wee drap parritch, or his breid,
Thou kitchens [give a relish to] fine

In Scots, porridge, like broth, is spoken of as “they”. “‘Why do ye no sup yer parritch’ ‘I dinna like them; they’re unco wersh (very insipid); gi’e me a wee pickle saut.'” – Jamieson.

The old custom is to stand while supping porridge. A friend of the writer’s recollects being slapped by her Highland nurse for not standing up to “them”. As to whether the custom has any mystical significance or is merely an application of that proverb that “a staunin’ (standing) sack fills the fu’est”, I profess no opinion.

–F. M. McN.

Recipe taken from The Scots Kitchen by F. Marian McNeill, published by Birlinn Ltd and reproduced with their kind permission.

A footnote in Scots Kitchen led to the books by Anne MacVicker Grant, this from Letters From The Mountains, 1807.
>I, who for my part detest every mode
of selfish luxury, could not endure to see a native
highlander make his good humour dependent on
a good breakfast, and was moreover disgusted by
certain learned strictures* on new-laid eggs, which
I am sure made no part of his college acquisitions.

* Among the peculiarities of highland manners is an
avowed contempt for the luxuries of the table. A high-
land hunter will eat with a keen appetite and sufficient
discrimination. But were he to stop in any pursuit, be-
cause it was meal time, to growl over a bad dinner, or
visibly exult over a good one, the manly dignity of his
character would be considered as fallen for ever.

Take that you self-indulgent whining wimps of any nation!
(By the way, hypoglycemia is usually a result of hyperglycemia, so don’t stoop to use that excuse)
Postscript #2 There is one problem with newly laid eggs, that the membrane sticks to the inside of the shell and makes it difficult to peel the shell from boiled eggs


Note that old texts often refer to cooked grain as meat and what we now call meat as flesh.

Path or History and Process Dependent Artifacts:

Oats do not contain gluten but may have wheat or other gluten residue from previous other grains processed on the same equipment.

Whole oat groats with the hull removed are not so likely to be contaminated since the intact seed is clean vs. meal or flakes that cannot be easily cleaned of all debris.

>From its location in Waterloo, IA, Roskamp Champion has been manufacturing milling equipment for over 60 years.

The company was started when John Roskamp invented and manufactured the first commercial oat huller for dehulling oats for hog feed. The Challenger oat huller is still sold and manufactured today, with few changes from the original design.

The old processes for removing the hull, more adherent than most other grains: either steam and roll while the oats were more pliable, or grind and remove the hulls by a winnowing/fanning procedure.

In both cases the Thrifty Scots made use of the remaining hulls, chaff and adhering bran and grain, called pron and/or sids adding water (the soaked mix was called serf) then fermenting for a few days after which the more solid part is sowans, the liquid is swats. They can be used in other recipes, much like kvass in Russia.

Modern buckwheat flour with black specks of hull is another example of tastes and food preferences dictated by earlier technology. When whole buckwheat is ground first then separated in a fanning mill to remove the black hulls some fine hull particles are left. The invention of roller mills changed the scale of flour milling in Minneapolis, Minnesota and other cities around the world to become grain and flour centers for large regions vs. the stone mills which were only able to serve local markets. Roller milling leaves the buckwheat hull (and wheat germ) nearly intact to be separated and removed. New technologies as with oats allowed the hulls to be removed before grinding or rolling, but for appearance and some believe for the taste a small amount of ground hulls are added back.

>The World Porridge Making Championship title is awarded to the competitor producing the best traditional porridge, made from oatmeal [pinhead, coarse, medium or fine].

The traditional porridge must be made with untreated oatmeal and not with oat flakes and with only water and salt. The judges will be strict on these rules.

The original Athole brose consisted of oatmeal and whisky. – F. M. McN.

“The yolk of an egg is sometimes beat up with the brose.” – Meg Dods.

Some links below with recalcitrant spacing

Drop Scones: Hearth Cakes for Shrove Tuesday

Peasemeal, An Ingredient Unique to Scotland

Related to the Highlands preference for nettles over kale (beware, bloated website)

Following the thread of nettle soups

Farther afield:


One thought on “The True Scots Receipt For Porridge

  1. Pingback: Fry Bread First Nations | Everything I Learned From My Sled Dogs And More!

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