Scottish porridge is synonymous with the country and has been for many a century. A porridge can be made from a variety of grains which are boiled in water or milk and served as a hot cereal. Scotland's version of porridge is made with oats since that is the country's main crop, which basically makes it an oatmeal.
Since late medieval times, oats have grown in Scotland and were part of the staple diet of farmers (or crofters, as they are called in Scotland). Oats are a highly nutritious and sustaining food, perfect for the inclement weather often found in Scotland.
How Scottish Porridge Was Made
All of those years ago, there were no methods of preserving the oats, so a thick paste was often made with the oats and water to extend their shelf life. Traditionally, porridge was cooked in a heavy saucepan with water and a little salt. The porridge was stirred with a wooden spurtle, a thick, Scottish wooden cooking tool that was shaped like a stick—the small surface area kept the oats from sticking to the tool and the simple structure allowed for stirring without creating lumps. Superstition would have you believe the porridge should be stirred only using the right hand and in a clockwise direction to ward off evil spirits.
This paste was then cooled and stored in a wooden porridge drawer. From the drawer, the paste (porridge) would be eaten over several days. When cold, the porridge becomes somewhat thick and solid, which was useful as it could be cut into thick slices and eaten for lunch or fried for breakfast.
Originally only made with water and salt, the paste, or porridge as it became known, bore little likeness to the thick, creamy mixture we know today, which is often eaten with sugar, butter, milk or cream, and even maple syrup.
Types of Oats Used for Porridge
The oats used for porridge will define the texture of the final dish as well as how long the dish will take to cook. (If you use the fine oats they will cook quicker.) For porridge, the oats are usually—but not always—rolled oats rather than crushed, and will be Scottish oats, which are also known as "pinhead oats." If you like a smooth, lump-free consistency, and a porridge that cooks quickly, use the rolled oats. Rolled oats are a medium grain and can also be used for traditional oatcakes, biscuits, and in stuffings or in haggis.
Oats are a slow-release carbohydrate, keeping you feeling fuller between meals as they stabilize blood sugar levels. Oats are also part of a heart-healthy diet—research published in 2015 shows they are useful for lowering cholesterol. So you can always be assured no matter which oats you choose you will be having a hearty, healthy breakfast which will see you through the morning and keep you full until lunchtime.
Hollænder PL, Ross AB, Kristensen M. Whole-grain and blood lipid changes in apparently healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):556-72. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.109165