Pease porridge hot, Pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, Nine days old.
by Mother Goose
Traditionally, ‘Porridge’ consists of any type of crushed grain such as wheat, rice, barley or legumes (hence, the ‘pease’) and boiling them in milk or water until thick. ‘Oatmeal’ is made from the crushed, rolled, cut or coarsely ground seed head or ‘oat’ and then boiled in milk or water until thick. Oats are a good choice for gluten sensitive diets because they contain no gluten. Either is an excellent breakfast choice rich in vitamins B1, B2, E and full of fiber. Oats were truly an all purpose plant, not only for eating.
The lowly oat was considered a nuisance weed at the onset of farming, roughly 12,000 BC because it competed with the more desirable wheat and barley crops. Undesirable? What other food crop can you eat and make a house? The main use of oats was to make beer or ale, not as a delicious hot breakfast item. People also fed oats to horses, and they used oat straw as bedding for animals, mixed with mud to build houses, as thatch for roofs, and to weave baskets, straw hats, and mats. It wasn’t until 2000 BC in Northern Europe that farmers realized oats grew better in a cooler and wetter climate, and not so much their wheat crops. Around 1300 AD, the weather changed and so did oat farming.
Grain crops are sensitive to moisture and temperature fluctuations. As conditions changed, so did the geography of the oat. Countries that grew wheat and oat, switched to rye and barley and those that could grow wheat had to switch to oats. Not a happy gastronomic time for many. By the Middle Ages, people ate oats alongside rye and barley in Britain, especially in Scotland and Ireland. The people of the British Isles toute a most interesting history, including recipes, stories, and poems about the first meal of the day.
No Ziploc or Rubbermaid containers? How about storing your breakfast in a drawer? Many Scottish households kept “porridge drawers’ where the porridge could be stored to solidify and consumed later in the day (or ‘nine days old’) as solid bars of oats. The first, portable breakfast bar!
What’s in a name? The people of Wales called it Flummery, Llymru or Uwd. Here they would steep the oats in water and buttermilk which would be boiled, then stirred with a special wooden porridge stick until thickened.
In Ireland, despite a slight decline in popularity due to the increase of potato farming in the late 16th century, most households made sure there was backup of oats to make the ever popular porridge, oatcakes, and black puddings. Ever inventive, the Irish came close to a cure for the common cold in the 19th and 20th century using oats. They created a concoction made with whiskey and cooked oats. This product never quite made it on the commercial market, but is still a favorite home remedy.
A popular dish in England around 1390 AD was ‘pea porridge’ which was made with peas. Not necessarily considered a first pick for breakfast by today’s standards. The recipe included herbs, onions, and other expensive and rare spices. There was a Christmas version which involved boiling (a favored way to cook during this time period) a leg and shin of beef – adding other ingredients like bread, dried fruit, sugar and wine – a very hearty breakfast meal, indeed! These varied methods of cooking with oats took a trip – to America.
History records Scottish settlers bringing oats to North America in 1602 AD. They discovered the northern part of the country had similar growing conditions as their homeland, cold and wet. Perfect for oat farming. Oats and the settlers continued to move westward. As the climate began to warm again around 1850 AD, this created conditions to make it easier to grow wheat. Unlike wheat at the time, people mostly grew oats for horses. With the invention of cars and trucks for transportation, the result was farmers devoting less of their fields to oats. In history and life the pendulum has swung back in favor of the lowly oat plant. This time it is harvested mostly for the health benefits reaped by consuming products containing oats. Today, farmers grow oats mainly in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Unlike our ancestors, consuming oats will continue to take precedence over building with them, sorry Home Depot.
As the December weather arrives with cold and frozen mornings do like the Three Bears- cook up a delicious pot of oatmeal (or porridge if you like);
Papa Bear (…too hot…) Add 1 Tablespoon chopped walnuts, ¼ teaspoon molasses, and a pat of butter
Mama Bear (…too cold…) Stir in 1 Tablespoon whipped cream, 1 teaspoon orange zest, and ½ teaspoon honey
Baby Bear (…just right…) Mix in 1 Tablespoon mashed banana, 1 Tablespoon plain yogurt, and a drop of vanilla extract