There comes a day each and every year when frost covers the car windscreen and your breath creates a cloud of condensation. Then you know it’s porridge time.
Porridge is a great breakfast any day of the year but right now is when we need it most. Avocado toast with poached eggs and zaatar may be in fashion but on a freezing morning in December, porridge is all that will do.
Growing up, it was made the traditional way with water and a pinch of salt and I didn’t much like that but a trip to freezing San Francisco in the depths of winter a few years ago changed everything. If Scotland is the traditional home of porridge, America is where it is pimped to the extreme. Alongside the bowl of hot oats made with milk came a jug of cream, a pot of honey and various bowls of nuts and seeds. Not sure what to opt for, I chose all of it and the result was a revelation. It wasn’t the porridge I knew from Scotland but it was absolutely delicious and I had it every day for a week.
Back home, the idea of starting the day that way felt like heresy. It may be acceptable abroad but here plain porridge seems suitably spartan, making anything else just pure indulgence.
For that reason, it was months before I could face the kilted, shot-putting giant on the porridge packet again. This time, I went low key with some raisins and a spoonful of demerara sugar but it stirred memories of the American breakfast. Then came some crushed hazelnuts and a drizzle of golden syrup. Right now it’s blueberries and a little honey but the truth is, it seems everything works as an accompaniment to porridge.
As a delicious way to start the day, that would be enough in itself. But in an age of health and fitness, porridge turns out to be just about the best breakfast you can eat. A plate contains ten times the fibre in a bowl of cornflakes. Research suggests that may naturally lower cholesterol as well as helping the body maintain a healthy weight. Low in fat, cooked oats are also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and slow-releasing carbohydrates. Where the breakfast buffet will leave you hungry for elevenses, porridge will keep your energy levels constant right up to lunchtime.
Of course that is hardly news. More than two centuries ago Robert Burns was paying tribute to “The halesome parritch, chief o’ Scotia’s food”. And on the eve of the First World War the distinguished doctor Sir James Crichton Browne validated the health benefits.
“There is one kind of food that is helpful to the brain and to the whole body, throughout childhood and adolescence, and that is oatmeal” he wrote in his renowned medical textbook. The history and the health benefits mean porridge is ripe for a great renaissance. It’s never been off the menu but muffins, croissants and bagels offered a speedy alternative without the washing up.
When the competition was fiercest, porridge simply reinvented itself. From microwaveable pots to delicious oat bars, porridge is now a portable breakfast. Add in all the coffee and sandwich shops offering porridge as the perfect way to start the day and it is suddenly more popular than ever.
It is the most democratic of all foods, eaten by the rich and poor, the old and young. You will find it on the menu in a five star hotel and the humble truck stop café. Even Heston Blumenthal had porridge on the menu, albeit made with snails.
Porridge has passed the test of time and emerged even healthier and tastier. So if you haven’t tried it in a while, in these dark days of winter, throw caution to the biting wind. You will find porridge has simply never tasted better.