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Make Porridge - tips on how to make it taste great!

Make porridge and there are so many options with so few ingredients, you may decide on toast instead. But persevere for a self-righteous, wholesome glow!

Make Porridge

You want to know how to make porridge? Well, this is what I do. As I am Scottish, it must be the best way, right? Actually, not necessarily and that's the trouble with porridge. I mean, if we can't even agree on how to spell it, what hope have we for a definitive recipe? If you are NOT standing in the kitchen right now with a handful of oat flakes and a cooking pot, then there's plenty more to read about porridge, below. Otherwise, how I make porridge is right here...but remember, I'm not saying this is definitive.

  • Assume half a cup of rolled oats per person. Add half a cup of milk and half a cup of water.
  • Put oats, milk and water in a pan and bring slowly to boil, stirring constantly.
  • Salt to taste. (or not)
  • Keep stirring until you run out of patience or get very hungry.
  • That's it. (also delicious with Scottish heather honey or dark brown sugar and some pouring cream!)
Oats at harvest time - the main ingredient of porridge.


Oats at harvest time - the main ingredient of porridge.

Everyone has their own method of making porridge (or porage or even the rustic parritch) and everyone swears it is the only way to make this nourishing traditional Scottish food. (Having said that, the idea of boiling up grains and eating them for breakfast is a world-wide habit – it’s just that porridge or porage seems to have become associated with Scotland. Oats tolerate a cooler, moister growing season than, say, wheat, so are more suited to the Scottish climate.)

If you look at all the different ways making porridge you end up with a very open-ended recipe. The suggestions here on porage-making have been assembled from a variety of sources.

Making Porridge - ingredients, quantities and options (eek!)

Take half a cup / or a handful of pinhead / or medium / or coarse oatmeal / or rolled oats. If using oatmeal, then this should be soaked overnight / or for about half an hour before use / or not soaked at all.

In the unlikely event that you do not know what porridge looks like, it's the stuff on the left. A few other optional ingredients are pictured along with it, in varying degrees of sinfulness. Sorry I only had single cream that day... heather honey is delicious in porridge (johanna says!)

In the unlikely event that you do not know what porridge looks like, it's the stuff on the left. A few other optional ingredients are pictured along with it, in varying degrees of sinfulness. Sorry I only had single cream that day... heather honey is delicious in porridge (johanna says!)

To make the porridge, put the oatmeal in a pan that is dry / or has boiling water / or cold water. Yes, you can use water, though some say mineral water is best – though that’s also unnecessary and environmentally thoughtless. But the proportion should be twice as much liquid as oatmeal, roughly. That is the only fact on making porridge about which most porridge-makers agree. You can also use half-and-half milk and water. Or all milk.

And you can microwave it. In which case you won’t need the spurtle or dedicated Scottish porridge-stirring stick. Spurtles make good souvenirs of Scotland and you don’t even need to use them to make porridge. (You could stir, uhmm, custard with them.)

Anyway, back at the porridge-making, you may need salt. Put that in at the end. Or at the beginning. Or not at all.

When the oats and the water – or water-and-milk or milk – are in the same pan apply heat and stir either occasionally or nearly all the time, either clockwise (for luck) or anti-clockwise when your arm gets tired generating luck.

The oatmeal can be brought to simmering point in about five minutes. Or longer if you only have a wee camping stove. Or shorter if you whack the heat up and risk burning it. (Just don’t blame me.) Then, if you’ve been stirring, then you should stir it some more. Or not, as it may depend if it’s lumpy – always a risk if you’re not an enthusiastic spurtle-wielder. Then you should let it gently simmer for a further five minutes / or 20 minutes / or up to half an hour.

Making porridge in a microwave. Just don't speak to me about it...

Making porridge in a microwave. Just don't speak to me about it...

Traditionally, (they say) when making porridge, it will whisper ‘Perth’ and ‘Gargunnock’ in a gentle simmering way when it’s ready. Mine sometimes says ‘Crieff’ and ‘Kilconquar’ (pronounced something like ‘kinn-yeuch-arrr’) but this is only something a Scottish specialist would notice. Don’t expect a lot of communication, though it may say ‘Mumbai’ or ‘Wyoming’ perhaps. It depends where you make it. You want to make porridge so that it ends up like those gently bubbling mud pools you see in areas of volcanic activity (but not in Scotland).

Then it’s ready to eat. Traditionally (they say again – and who are these people anyway?) porridge was eaten standing up, but I have never met anyone who did this. Likewise, it was traditionally always referred to or addressed in the plural, though why you would want to strike up a conversation with your breakfast (or anyone else at that time in the morning) is beyond me.

And now, making porridge in a microwave: as my recent experience is pictured here, I am in no way qualified to comment. Personally, never again.


To make porridge – summary

Just in case the instructions at the top of the page are a bit too terse, this is what I do...use rolled oats, milk and water in equal quantities. (Like rice, allow half a cup per person.) Add salt, if you like. (I add too much, my wife says.) Bring to boil, lots of stirring, then simmer for a few minutes. Simple. And the dog loves it too. If you can, try to get someone else to wash the pan, especially if you’ve had the heat too high and haven’t been stirring enough.


What to eat with porridge

As well as the salt, I sprinkle with dark brown sugar. I also add double cream, when I can find it in the fridge. But then, I may roast in hell for this, according to the traditionalists. Honey is popular, while the more diet-conscious go for fruit.

Scottish raspberries, for example, seem popular, amongst the self-righteous. Wait, I think I meant to write 'the health-conscious'.

Some porridge oats facts

The cleaned and heated ‘kilned’ vital part of the oat is called a ‘groat’. Oatflakes, basically milled groats, were an American invention. The Gaelic word for porridge is ‘brochan’ or ‘lite’. Oats is a grain with a high amount of protein, as well as slow-release carbohydrate – the reason it has found favour with nutrition experts. It’s also high in magnesium. Porridge oats are worth £171 million in the UK economy (possibly more when Scotland becomes independent).

Several traditional accounts in Scotland tell of the habit of making porridge once a week, then pouring it into a drawer where it, uhmm, set, congealed, coagulated, festered or whatever the term is for cold sticky porridge. It was then cut in slices for breakfast or taken as sustenance for work. The habit seems particularly associated with gamekeepers and shepherds. I have never ever met someone who actually did this. I also checked the IKEA catalogue and a porridge drawer is not currently on offer in their kitchenware range. 

Spurtles Drawn in Carrbridge at the World Porridge Making Championship

Of course if you tire of the plain old ‘rustic parritch’ and you see yourself at the cutting edge of porridge creativity (what?) then you could enter the World Porridge Making Championship, held annually at Carrbridge, in the Highlands south of Inverness.

Describing itself as an ‘oaty cook-off’ it draws competitors now from across the globe. Each is aiming for the coveted (it says) Golden Spurtle. There is also a speciality award if you want to go off-piste with porridge - fruity date porridge and pinhead risotto with lemon, thyme and parmesan are just two other previous winners in their categories.

More on oatmeal on our other great food pages. Here are just two to start you off...!