Sunday, 31 May 2009

Porridge lady






One of the best things about having Anna Porridgelady do 'front of house' for me is that, because she lives far away, she stayed the night and therefore, in the morning, she cooked us porridge. I felt privileged: Anna is a finalist in The World Porridge Making Championships, also known as The Golden Spurtle (a kind of porridge stirring stick). 
She used the Rude Health oats 'fruity date' that I got for free at The Real Food festival. She considered the packet with an expert eye:
"Yeees, this is a mix of large and small oats, some rolled and some chopped".
"What does that mean?" 
 I asked, sensing that I was about to get a wealth of insider porridge info.
"It's quicker to cook" she said briskly measuring out a large cup of oats "Use half water and half milk" 
"What is the secret of good porridge?" I delved.
"Keep stirring. People tend to wander off and leave it. Ooh I've never cooked porridge on an Aga before!" she exclaimed.
"How often do you eat porridge?"
"Every morning. When I was doing alot of running I used to eat a bowl in the afternoon as well. It's particularly good with kippers and spinach, all those traditional Scottish recipes" she continued.
"In Japan they eat seaweed and oatmeal. Many cultures have porridges. In Russia Kasha porridge, buckwheat, is very popular, especially with mushrooms. Quinoa (pronounced [keenwa] is a kind of porridge."
"In Thailand they have congee for breakfast, a rice porridge" I remember.
Anna Porridgelady has finished the porridge and dishes it into bowls. 
"I like to put a little milk on top"
"I hate cleaning the pan afterwards" I complain.
"The trick is to give it a quick rinse as soon as possible so it doesn't stick" Anna says, rinsing.
At The Golden Spurtle, a competition which has been running for 15 years, the top Scottish hotels send their chefs to compete. They all want that title. 
"But it's very tongue in cheek, humorous" says Anna"and it attracts the tourists"
Last year there were three competitors from England, one from Canada and the rest were from Scotland.
This Rude Health porridge is flavoured with cinnamon, apples, dates and apricots. It doesn't need any sugar or, my childhood favourite, Golden syrup.
"Cinnamon is good for controlling blood sugar" explains Anna"They call it the diabetic sugar. Cinnamon is naturally sweet but has no hypoglycemic index".
During the competition, Anna got quite nervous, almost hyperventilating at the start. The contestants get half an hour to make two types of porridge: one a speciality, the other using only the traditional Scottish method of water, salt and oats. It's a version of Masterchef, but the only dish is porridge.
Anna spent months foraging in Berkshire for the ingredients in preparation for her speciality porridge; scrumping Bramley and Discovery apples for different purées, making crab apple jelly and rosehip sauce as a side syrup.
"The guy that won it, Ian, his porridge was stunning"enthused Anna.
"What was his speciality?" I asked
"He didn't do one. He just did the traditional recipe.".
"Er, how different can different porridges be?" I put the question.
"A winning porridge has colour, texture, flavour."explained Anna. "The texture should be gloopy but rough at the same time. This one had a mix of colours, yellows and browns. He used salt as a flavouring. It didn't taste salty. The salt merely enhanced the intrinsic taste of the oatmeal. Another woman did one from very fine oats which was more like a grey gravy. There are also pinhead oats which are really coarse, hardly refined at all, tasting nutty. One contestant made that version and barely got it finished in the half hour allotted."

I resolved to eat more porridge.
For any porridge related issues, questions, projects contact Anna on Twitter...@porridgelady.

11 comments:

  1. I love porridge. I make mine half&half skimmed milk and water, and use organic rolled oats - not the jumbo ones, I don't like the texture. a pinch of salt in the cooking, and demerara and muscovado sugar mixed together sprinkled on afterwards. No extra milk.

    And I, philistine that I am, cook it in the microwave. It is one of the very few things I cook from scratch in the microwave, usually I just reheat or defrost, but I find I really like the flavour of porridge made that way. You need a HUGE bowl and an eagle eye though- it rises up alarmingly, and cleaning the lava flow of boiled over porridge is not something I would recommend....

    Lynne

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  2. Didn't know there was so much to porridge. Hate the microwave version, and think it's much better on a stove.

    A friend of mine mixes it up in a dish the night before and leaves it at the bottom of the Aga, and then it's ready in the morning and has this sort of crusty skin that's delicious.

    When I was a kid I used to have a bowl of uncooked oats with milk and sugar - that was good too.

    It's also great for shedding the pounds. Alright, it's never going to replace a nice bacon buttie, or scrambled egg on Marmite toast, but I feel better after eating the porridge.

    Lennie

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  3. Oh I love porridge too. It's my winter 'healthy' breakfast made with soya milk, then half a cup of overnight-soaked seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, linseed...)added after cooking and a little honey on top.

    I had kasha in Russia years ago where they served it with a knob of butter on top which melted into the porridge - delicious.

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  4. Lennie, when you say "microwave version" do you mean real porridge, just made in the microwave rather than on the hob, or do you mean the instant packeted microwave stuff?

    Because if so I soooo agree with you, it is just pap, like Reddibrek. But I have made my own porridge both ways, on the stove and in the micro, following the same proportions etc both times, and whilst there is a slight difference to my tastebuds (and I do agree the pan made is a bit more solid and toasty, although I love the micro one too) the main and indisputable benefit is that I don't have a pan to clean up.

    I suppose if we are aiming for fast food, it has to be better than a sachet of readymade pap, don't you think?

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  5. Anna will probably beat me with her golden spurtle, but my favourite Porridge recipe is to make it (by pan or microwave with water and salt) dish it up in bowls, top each serving with demerara sugar and a half-capful of Irish whiskey, pop it under the grill until the whiskey catches fire and douse the flames with double cream.

    This has been a traditional Christmas morning filler which seems to do everyone till turkey time, although it's surprising how often Christmas seems to come round in my house ...

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  6. I was sent a spurtlen as a gift from a Scottish friend a few years ago - had to look up what it was for!

    I do enjoy porridge but seldom make it myself.

    Had no idea it was such an art or that they was such variation in the oats.

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  7. I used to be content with the crappy microwavable stuff, then I met me a Scotsman, now my husband...he has introduced me to a mean bowl of porridge and I won't go back to the old stuff ever again.

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  8. Johnnyfox, that is SUCH a brilliant idea. Flambed porridge. I wonder, with an orange liqueur, Porridge Suzette?

    I am now also wondering if porridge brulee would be good...

    and why, when you write it too many times, does the word porridge look so strange???

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  9. Wow, I never realised Porrige could be so complex - it is cool to learn all about it - how come she was visiting? Did her porridge taste great? xxx

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  10. Johnny: that recipe sounds gorgeous...

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  11. My particular advice for porridge improvement is as follows. Add a small pinch of salt mid-way through your cooking process. Add Sainsbury's frozen fruit (currently on offer - 3 bags for £5 with a choice of black forest, summer fruit and straight blueberries) into the porridge as you serve it - the frozenness of the fruit with the heat of the porridge and the runny colours are just perfect! We're hoping to feature your friends from the Salad Club on www.ooh.com/blog in the near future!

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