21st October


There are only three ingredients in a dish of porridge: oats, water and salt. You can vary the quantity of each ingredient and thus vary the consistency and taste of the porridge, and naturally the quality of both oats and water will affect the final outcome. Most regular makers of porridge, however, have a regular way of going about things. They will use the same kind and quantity of oats, take water from the same source, and add the same amount of salt to the mix. Some will steep the oats overnight, others for an hour before commencing the cooking process. Some will not steep the oats at all. But each individual maker of porridge will follow the same procedure that he or she always follows, day after day.

Now comes the curious part. Despite this simplicity and regularity, your bowl of porridge will never be the same two days running. This is not because on any particular day something has gone wrong. It is just one of the mysteries of porridge. You may make it in precisely the same way for a lifetime, and each day it will be different. Porridge aficionados know this. They expect and relish it. In Scotland experienced porridge eaters will pass judgement as follows: ‘The parritch are awfie guid the day,’ or ‘They’re rare parritch this mornin.’ Note that in these instances ‘parritch’, a singular noun, takes a plural verb. This is in acknowledgement of the fact that the finished conglomerated product is composed of many oats.

Dr Johnson caused the hackles of Scottish porridge eaters to rise when in his famous dictionary he defined oats as ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’. Actually, there wasn’t much wrong with that as a definition in 1755. Indeed, a manufacturer of oats in Cupar immediately adopted the advertising slogan OATS: SUPPORTING THE PEOPLE OF SCOTLAND. No, sorry, that’s untrue.

Not everyone enjoys porridge, but those of discerning taste do. As Lady Perth observed to a French visitor as they discussed the culinary merits of their respective countries, ‘Weel, weel, some fowk like parritch and some like puddocks.’ Now that is true!

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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