There's a nip in the (Belfast) air and it's time to pop on the radiator. Most importantly it's time to rethink the breakfast menu. Instead of reaching for the bowl of pineapple, yoghurt and granola, it's porridge time for all of us here at Sian's Plan.
A Brief History of Porridge
Porridge (for you Irish, Scots and Brits out there) and oatmeal (for the rest) is made by boiling crushed, ground or chopped cereal in water or milk.
In the past, it was a cheap, tasty option for all the masses. "Doing porridge" became a slang term for a sentence in prison. Sure, even Oliver Twist wanted more of it! Though it must be mentioned that his version of gruel (made with fewer oats and with water) is not as delectable as many of the offerings out there today.
Dr Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755 defined oats as "a grain which in England is given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." Miaow. The Scots are usually credited with bringing it to the breakfast table, however it also has roots as a savoury dish from Northern Europe and Russia, made with meats, root crops, vegetables and herbs.
One man even thinks that porridge is the greatest revolution in history. The reason being that prior to farming and development of porridge, with children's milk teeth unable to chew the meat their hunter fathers collected, women had to continue breast-feeding their children for 4-5 years. This meant there were a lot less babies. Once porridge came about, women could reduce their breast-feeding period, have more babies and the population exploded (along with wars, overcrowding, the Ozone layer hole etc. - but that's another story).
Sounds great! So is it okay for everyone?
The Breakfast of ALL Champions?
Pure oatmeal does not contain gluten. Sounds great for the coeliacs out there!
Unfortunately, most porridge and oatmeals brands on the market today are not pure and may contain other gluten containing grains such as wheat, barley or rye. There are even 'pure' brands such as Flahavans or Quakers who cannot guarantee that there is no gluten i.e. the combine harvester which harvests the oats may have already harvested wheat/barley and hence there could be some contaminated ingredients. On the flip there are some brands (e.g. Nairns and Glebe Farm) on the market that guarantee they are gluten free. Great news. However to throw more difficulties in the mix, there is a small percentage of coeliac people who may still react to avenin, the protein found in oats. It is worth checking with your doctor and unfortunately the jury is still out on coeliacs and porridge...
However, for all our vegetarians out there, it's a winner. Likewise, those with lactose intolerance can also get involved - just make sure you use plain oats and hold the milk. Watch out for some of the quick oat versions that include powdered milk in the ingredients!
The Perfect Porridge - What are you talking Ab-Oat???
First you've got to pick the perfect oats. There are lots of different types of oats on the market. Here are the more famous ones.
Pinhead or Steel-Cut Oats - This is the real deal - chunky, chewy and nutty tasting. This is when the oat is split into several pieces.
Rolled Oats - This is the same as old fashioned oats. It is when whole grains of oats are steamed (making them soft and pliable) and then pressed between rollers and dried. These absorb water relatively quickly and are great for cooking as they still maintain some of their bite.
Quick Oats - These are oats that have been pressed slightly thinner than rolled oats. They cook more quickly, but retain less of their texture.
Instant Oats - There are very popular these days and are pressed even thinner than quick oats. They often break into a coarse powder and cook super quickly. The end texture normally reflects the powder consistency.
If taste was most important, my favourite oat blend would be 50% pin-head and 50% rolled oats. Then I would suggest 1 part oats, 1 part milk and 2 parts water. It'll take some time, but the taste will pay off.
The US Consumer Reports agree. They tested a number of oatmeal varieties a couple of years ago and felt that for the best oatmeal tastes, patience is best. The tastiest options were the longer cooking oatmeals and of the 10 flavoured instant oatmeals (the most popular on the market) they tested, none had any great taste.
Back in the day people would make a big vat of porridge in advance and re-heated a serving every day for breakfast. The ultimate convenience food? Why not try that?
If that's not your cup of breakfast tea, I have checked some quicker versions on the market and will be back tomorrow with details or if you can't wait, pop onto my other blog for more ideas.