A COMPARISON used too often in articles about “celebrities” is to say they divide opinion like Marmite. Apart from misleading attempts to do that with Jeremy Clarkson – after all, some people like Marmite – surely a better reference point would be porridge?
That’s a product with more going for it than any wimpy yeast spread for toast, and it separates not only north from south in Britain, but also, I like to think, men from boys, real women from girls.
In spite of efforts by enthusiasts like me, many still insist porridge is gloop and they prefer wallpaper paste. That includes some force-fed traditional porridge – water only, heavy on the salt, black treacle if you must – as children, or who were detailed to scrub the pan.
Porridge-haters also include too many of the dwindling band who attempt breakfast at home, preferring sugar-coated cereals, or toast, and all those who get stuck into bacon rolls and pastries at work, to what used to be the healthy Scottish staple food. Farm workers’ memories of a century ago recount porridge – or its fast-food equivalent sowens, boiling water poured over oat remnants – being served two or three times a day.
I can see how that might pall. Institutional porridge – hospital, not prison – never had much to commend it either, although I’m told by those who did National Service that the taste and texture of Army porridge had to be experienced to be believed, and not in a good way.
Then there are hotels. After some early attempts I gave up asking for porridge in English hotels because of the lukewarm, salt-less, gruel that appeared. Oliver Twist might have been happy to see it, but it was no way for a growing lad to start a working day.
Imagine, however, and you know you can, my consternation when I asked for porridge in a Scottish hotel recently and got exactly the same pap. I could only conclude that was because their many English and overseas visitors “going Scottish” expect porridge to be runny, without salt, with blueberries, cinnamon, fudge, chocolate sauce or some other current fad, added.
Unfortunately, additions like that, quick-cook packs and publicity given to competitions, have combined to increase consumption. Such efforts are in a good cause even if the result is porridge, Jim, but not as we know it.
My own mix is one of locally grown oats, one of milk, one of water, salt to taste, stir steadily and boil, with public use of a spurtle legal. Eat without milk, but with a touch of sugar, and be a happier person. Usually.