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Poems and 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.” Changed Days”



   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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