Life Eat & Drink Porridge is no longer just gruel – now it’s cool
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Porridge is no longer just gruel – now it’s cool

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It’s thought to be some 33,000 years old and has often been looked down upon as a food that’s very ‘of the people’, but the humble bowl of porridge is having a bit of a moment in the sun.

Made with oats and milk or water, topped with any combination of fruit, nuts and sweeteners, a warm bowl of porridge (called oatmeal in the US) is often just what the doctor ordered.

A cursory glance at the taste dictator Instagram reveals food bloggers are turning it into a decadent delight that would make Oliver Twist faint with glee.

(If you fall into this rabbit hole, prepare to swoon over the ‘swipe for the melt’ videos.)

Author and food journalist Dani Valent is all aboard the porridge express, saying it’s the prime example of the comfort food we’re all craving right now.

“I always like porridge in winter, but I think this winter it’s taken on a particular resurgence,” Valent told The New Daily, after a hearty bowl for breakfast.

“It’s a very comforting meal that fills you up, keeps you going.”

The real paleo diet

Porridge, or some version of it anyway, is likely to have been a part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years.

National Geographic published research a few years ago that detailed the findings of a pestle from the Palaeolithic period, which was covered in a film of oat dust – so our ancestors could very well have been making their version of porridge way back when.

In more recent history, porridge is linked to the United Kingdom.

In Scotland, they take it seriously. Traditionally, it’s made with oats, water and salt. It must be served in a wooden bowl and stirred with a wooden stick called a spurtle.

Many Scottish homes (way back) used to have ‘porridge drawers’ – you’d make your porridge at the start of the day, pop it in the drawer, and then gnaw on it later in the day when it had solidified into some sort of salty muesli bar.

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist put into pop culture the ‘meagre’ connotations of porridge, when wee Oliver asks, “Please sir, can I have some more?” in reference to gruel.

Gruel is a thin version of porridge, more runny, and not overly delicious sounding.

Porridge that you’ll want more of

Porridge is most commonly made from rolled oats, but Valent said there’s a whole range of grains that can be used in the dish.

Genfo is the African version, made from barley, she said – and for the gluten intolerant, there’s all kinds of quinoa variations.

“It’s flexible, one of those dishes that you can change up depending on what you’ve got about or what you feel like – stewed fruit, fresh fruit, spices, nuts, dried fruits,” Valent said.

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“You can feel like you’re creating something special, without too much effort or too much expense, which is important at this time.

“I saw a recipe the other day for a bacon and egg porridge, basically the idea is you replace the carb of toast with porridge, then top with bacon and eggs.

“Look, I wouldn’t rule it out, but I didn’t go, ‘I’m going to make that tomorrow’.”

Her personal favourite is made in the microwave, with grated apple, blueberries, cinnamon and yoghurt.

Ready to create your own? Try this, and ad-lib as you choose.

Traditional porridge

Mix one cup of rolled oats with three cups of cold water (or milk, or half-half) in a saucepan. For a super traditional recipe, add a pinch of salt.

Bring to the boil and bring heat down to a gentle simmer.

Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring to keep it from clumping as it thickens. (If it looks too thick, add more liquid. If it looks too thin, keep it on the boil to cook some of the liquid out.)

Turn into a bowl and start topping – golden syrup, honey or brown sugar is a good place to start. So is yoghurt or some cold milk.

Then there’s any number of fruits to add as you please: Fresh banana slices, stewed apple or frozen berries.

For a fancy finish, nuts, spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, coconut flakes, dried fruit or if you want to dine with the Instagram stars, grated chocolate.