For a healthy start to the day, a bowl of porridge topped with fresh or dried fruit can’t be beaten. Two thousand years ago, the Roman goddess of agriculture was Ceres. Today, we remember her name in our daily helping of ‘cereals’. That great lexicographer, Dr Samuel Johnson explained the word ‘oat’ in his great dictionary of 1755: “In Scotland it supports the people, but in England is generally given to horses.”
As farmers will know, oats will produce an economic crop even in cold, wet areas where other cereals might fail, and that includes the Scottish Highlands.
The Victorian Breakfast
Before the days of ‘refined’ porridge oats, ordinary coarse porridge was a very variable breakfast food. In Spon’s Household Manual of 1891 they suggest the following recipe:
Put on a fire a pan of the size that will hold the quantity required about 2/3 full of water; when the water is quick boiling take a handful of meal and holding the hand over the pan – of course – high enough to avoid being burned by the steam – let the meal slide slowly through the fingers into the water, the other hand stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Continue this till enough of meal is put into the water, then add s alt to taste, and allow the porridge to boil for 20-30 minutes.
But for children or delicate stomachs it should be boiled the full half-hour, by which time the meal is so well swelled and softened that it becomes a digestible and most nutritious article of food. If the meal is thrown in too quickly, or the water allowed to cease boiling, it forms into lumps and is not so good.
With the speed of modern life, few can devote the time and concentration in preparation of our breakfast. We want something which is faster, more reliable and possibly with the addition of milk and sugar, rather than salt.
Scott’s Porage Oats
This brand of oats is particularly famous. Unfortunately, no one seems to know who A & R Scott were who first branded Scott’s Porage Oats, but the company behind the cereal was soon leading the way in its hygienic methods of food preparation. The two Scott brothers started making Midlothian Oat Flour in Glasgow in 1880 and as early as 1884, the Mercantile Age was reporting on the excellent facilities at their mill. At that time they were packing about one thousand 1-lb tins each day – some of them bound for the West Indies, America, New Zealand and various parts of the Continent.
However, the factory was fully mechanised and none of the contents was touched by human hand. All containers were hermetically sealed. Oats for porage were milled on the uppermost floor of the factory, while on the ground floor there was a bakery where oatcakes and biscuits were ‘fired’. It was in 1914 that they introduced the term ‘Scott’s Porage Oats’ and it is still their registered trademark today. ‘Porage’ is still a combination of the old Scottish word poray and the French word potage.
The Scottish Highlander putting the shot was added to the packaging in 1924. They have been milled at the Uthrogle Mills at Cupar in Fife, Scotland, since 1947
- How It All Began In The Pantry by Maurice Baren published by Michael O’Mara Books Limited (1990)