Porridge is a food that divides people. I was brought up to cook it in water with a generous pinch of salt until thickened and almost solid. We then sprinkled it with dark muscovado sugar and poured very cold milk round the edge. The trick was to devour the porridge before the milk lost its chill, adding top-ups when necessary so that every mouthful was a contrast of hot and cold. My best friend’s mum cooked hers in milk and she ate it without sugar or extra milk. Later I shared a flat with someone who cooked porridge in a mixture of milk and water and ate it with a sprinkling of salt and a knob of butter.
I’ve taken to eating my winter porridge oats with lightly sweetened Bramley apple puree or plums stewed in fresh orange juice with scraps of ginger and a spoonful of honey. I cut the plums in bite-size pieces so it’s easy to share evenly between mouthfuls and their addition turns a pleasantly dull warming breakfast into something rather special. My other excess is a dollop of creamy sheep’s yoghurt but I also like a small jug of fridge-cold milk on the side.
In the past I’ve grated apple into hot porridge, added blueberries – excellent because they soften and intensify flavour in the heat – and even made fruit salad to eat at the same time. Unwittingly, I’ve tapped into the latest porridge craze. If you linger at the porridge shelf of your local store, looking past the Quaker Oats, you will notice an outbreak of fruity porridge. Some, like Quaker’s Oat So Simple, is a microwavable almost instant porridge flavoured with blackberry and apple, or raspberry, or golden syrup. Another porridge route is to add toasted seeds and goji berries, or a mix of dried cherry and cranberry, both very high in vitamin C.
My favourite every day porridge is organic Flahavan’s from Tesco and Waitrose in 1 kg (recycled) paper sack (www.flahavans.co.uk). It only takes 3 minutes to cook and delivers all the texture and flavour of the finest rolled oats. When time isn’t an issue, I like the anticipation of John McCann’s steel cut oatmeal (www.mymccanns.com). It takes 30 minutes for the pin meal to soften but its nutty yet creamy flavour makes it worth the wait. There are various instant oatmeals from McCann’s, even a single-serve microwaveable cup flavoured with vanilla honey. The original, though, comes in a want-to-keep silver and white 793g tin.
Heresy, perhaps, but both these Irish oats would be perfect for Atholl brose, the Scottish way of cooking porridge with honey and whisky. I make this rather wonderful winter weekend breakfast by cooking the porridge in the usual way then adding a tablespoon of honey before beating in a measure of whisky and two scoops of double cream per serving.