Pass notes No 2,950: Porridge

Pret a Manger is selling 50,000 pots of it a week – what is so great about porridge?

Age: At least 5,000.

Appearance: Muesli without the fun bits.

Ah, the bore's breakfast! The sort of thing you eat if you find toast too racy. Rubbish. It's the food of the future.

Is that what Grandma told you? Why else would Pret a Manger be selling 50,000 pots of it every week? It's the firm's most popular new product. And you can bet your bottom dollar that McDonald's didn't put it on its menu from nostalgia.

Perhaps there's something in it. Speaking of which, what is in it? Pret's basic recipe uses oats and milk, and some softie home cooks add sugar, honey or even nuts and fruit. But if you're interested in traditional Scottish porridge . . .

Let's pretend I am. It's mostly oats and water. F Marian McNeill, author of The Scots Kitchen, said you should "bring the water to the boil and as soon as it reaches boiling point, add the oatmeal in a steady rain from the left hand, and stirring it briskly with the right". Said stirring should, of course, be done with a special stick called a . . .

A mashie niblick? A caber? A spurtle. But we haven't finished yet. After 10 minutes you're allowed to add some salt, before serving your delicious breakfast with sugar, cream or, if you're feeling particularly Scottish, more salt.

Whoa there, Hamish. What about the deep-frying? And when do we stuff it all into a sheep's stomach? OK, it's more Scottish-ish than Scottish. It's believed to have been inspired by the English dish pottage, and something similar has been found in bodies recovered from Scandinavian peat bogs.

Sunk by the weight in their stomachs, presumably. So why is it so popular? Because it's good for you! Oats reduce cholesterol, absorb toxins and lower blood pressure.

Which must come in handy if you're swallowing all that salt. At least no one's claiming it's an aphrodisiac. Where do you think the expression "getting your oats" comes from?

Do say: "One little bowl and I won't eat a thing till lunchtime."

Don't say: "Especially more bloody porridge."

The GuardianTramp

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