Lately, there's been a wee nip in the air and mists draped over the hills towards Mulligan's Flat. So I've stepped up our breakfast to include a bowl of rib-sticking porridge—said to be the "chief o' Scotia's food" by poet and lyricist, Robbie Burns.
"Did you use your spurtle?" Peter asked, as I set down his bowl of porridge. "Oh, bother, I forgot," I replied, feeling slightly annoyed. It had been ages since I'd made porridge for breakfast, and even longer since I'd used the spurtle. Indeed, I had even forgotten that I owned one.
Originating in Scotland centuries ago, a spurtle (sometimes called a 'theevil' or 'parridge' stick) was originally devised for stirring oatmeal as it cooked. Continuous stirring using the wooden stick—clockwise and with the right hand to be precise--prevented lumps from forming in the gruel.
Traditionally, spurtles have a decorative thistle-like shape carved into one end, while the other end is long, smooth and rounded, much like on a thick-handled wooden spoon. We used to sell spurtles when I had the cooking school and cookware shop, but for some reason I never acquired one back then. After seeing them mentioned on a couple of my favourite blogs, I bought my spurtle from a store in the Scottish market town of Jedburgh, just across the border from England, when we were there in 2015.
The first time I used my spurtle, I had the thistle-end pointing downwards in the pot. I must admit, it worked well. And then, to my embarrassment, I found out that it's the smooth end that should used for the stirring. Interestingly enough, using the smooth end makes for much better porridge.
Usually, I serve porridge with a jug of cold milk and a little pot of honey, as my mother did. Sometimes, when I'm not watching, Peter tops his porridge with a dollop (or three!) of double cream. With that in mind, I thought it was time to zhuzh up this plain, old-fashioned brekky and turn it into a heartier, more appetising dish.
Our fruit bowl is stacked high with autumn plums—black amber, garnet and santa rosa—all of which are sweet, tasty and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. I've been buying six-packs of French vanilla probiotics yoghurt; and have a good supply of this season's hazelnuts from Fourjay Farms near Orange in NSW. A fabulous combination of ingredients to serve with porridge, methinks.
The resulting dish of rolled oats porridge with caramelised plums and toasted hazelnuts was inspired by Ms Heidi Swanson's recipe for porridge with prunes, hazelnuts, brown butter and yoghurt.
My recipe is a doddle to prepare, and will serve two. I hope you like it as much as we do.
ROLLED OATS PORRIDGE WITH CARAMELISED PLUMS & TOASTED HAZELNUTS
For the caramelised plums:
1-2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar
1/4 teaspoon of ground vanilla bean
1 large or 2 medium-sized plums
For the porridge:
350mls cold water
70g rolled oats (make sure they are nice and fresh)
a pinch of sea salt
30g vanilla-flavoured unsweetened yoghurt
12 hazelnuts, lightly toasted, chopped
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
Start by preparing the plum/s. Combine the butter, sugar and ground vanilla bean powder in a small, non-stick saucepan over the lowest heat setting. Stir periodically. Meanwhile, slice the plum/s into 8 or 10 segments, and add the plums to the pan. Raise the heat a little and cook, stirring, until the plums are tender. (Don't walk away from the stove, otherwise the caramel may burn). Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
While the plums are cooking, heat the water in a small saucepan. As it begins to boil, add the rolled oats and the salt. Lower the heat and cook, stirring, until the porridge is thick and the oats are tender but still have some "bite". (You don't want soggy gruel). Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yoghurt.
Spoon the porridge into two serving bowls. Arrange the plums on top and drizzle over the caramelised pan juices. Finish with the chopped hazelnuts and, if you like, a drizzle of the maple syrup. Serve immediately. Preparation and cooking time: less than 20 minutes.
Over to you now, dear readers. Tell me, do you have a spurtle? What's your favourite thing to eat for breakfast?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.