Stories of Oskar Douglas
Porridge and the Spurtle
Early Scottish Staple Diet
Grinding the husks from oats produced
clean ears of oats ready for making porridge or porage and after
separating the chaff from the oats they were placed in a large iron pot.
They were covered with water from the then clean uncontaminated streams or
from the well and the pot hung over the open fire or the range and was
brought to the boil, slowly simmering after the heat was reduced until the
grain was soft. The porridge only required a little salt and it was ready
to eat. Once it was ready it was generally poured into a container to set.
In the highlands and islands the porridge was poured
into a drawer in the kitchen dresser or cabinet and left to set. In the
morning, fresh porridge was made for breakfast and a slice or two of the
now set porridge from the drawer was taken to the workplace, usually out
in the fields attending to the crops or animals. Any babies born to these
poorer families were put to bed in a drawer, usually above the porridge
drawer, and the slow rising heat acted as a kind of central heating for
the well-wrapped child.
There was generally enough porridge in the drawer to
last a whole week and weekends and holidays the workers had herring and
mackerel as a treat.
The evening meals for the people working for
landowners and large estates were generally Salmon which was in great
abundance in the clean Scottish streams. The Salmon was caught and sent to
the large fish markets in the towns and cities and the excess, which was
usually quite high, was fed to the poor workers. They were fed so much of
the stuff that they rebelled against the landowners and eventually put so
much pressure on them that they were forced to provide alternatives. Game
such as venison and rabbit was given to the workers and their families and
this along with the salmon was to be looked on as poor mans fare.
The utensil used for stirring the oats in
the porridge making process was called a spurtle or stirring stick and was
made from a thin branch of a tree. The usual timber being beech which was
plentiful in Scotland, after the Great Caledonian Forest was cleared
giving hardwoods such as beech, oak chestnut and ash plenty of room to
spread and grow.
Local craftsmen turn
modern spurtles from any of these hardwoods. No two spurtles are made the
same, as the design is dependant on the individual turners mood and the
characteristics of the wood on the lathe.
Treating the timber with
a natural vegetable oil or peanut oil after every wash keeps the spurtle
in good condition and it will last for many years. The most common design
for a spurtle has the thistle head on the handle, as this flower is the
National Emblem of Scotland.
The spurtle is normally in
the region of 12 in length and about 1 in diameter and is designed
primarily for the stirring of porridge or milk puddings. In this age of
continental breakfasts and fast food however, the making of porridge is
not so common and the spurtle can be used for stirring paint or even
mixing wallpaper paste.
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