Anyone reasonably familiar with Scots traditions knows that oats hold an iconic position in that country’s history. It was boiled and eaten plainly, with a wooden stick or spoon. Oats were eaten standing, too, at least the male adults ate them that way. How I know this is unclear even to me, but it’s true.
Famed English writer Samuel Johnson made the jibe that oats is a food for horses but in Scotland supports the people, rather unfair considering England had its own share dishes hardly at the edge of international fashion (broiled kidney, boiled sheep’s head, simmered tripe…).
Anyway in Canada in the 50s and 60s, porridge as we called it too, was popular. No doubt this reflected the strong Scottish element in Montreal then. In those days there was no instant oatmeal, so it was boiled long in water in the auld Scots way. In our house, we ate it with milk and some salt. Some people used sugar. We had a surfeit of sucrose in other forms: honey cake, chocolate cake, chocolate bars (Smarties, Cadbury bars, Aero bars, etc.), Quebec sugar and raisin pie, soft drinks of various kinds. So the sugar saved from the porridge pot was more a blessing than anything else, not that it didn’t keep the dentists’ chairs busy in my case, indeed to this day.
I think it was last year that Mrs. Beer Et Seq placed some porridge down for brekkie and I had a go, first time in decades. First, the taste hasn’t changed. People say you can’t go home again, but the taste of boiled oat is one of those constants. The attentions of agronomers and breeders haven’t dented the basic flavour at all, it’s the same earthy metallic taste I recall from 50 years ago. The salt now may be sel gris from Brittany, or evaporated stuffs from the Dead Sea, but it tasted like I remember.
Only, where’s my (leather) breeches, my double-zippered, fleece-lined overshoes, the No. 161 bus on Van Horne Road, Mrs. Quackenbush at Coronation School…? Where is the guy who drove his car from New York filled with Beatles and other 45s and sold them to my cousin Gary and me from the curb? His influence was long-lasting too, like the chocolate bars’, but more benign, nay salutary. Where is Morty, who owned the corner shop which sold the chocolate that kept all those dentists in clover for generations? Where is Socky, from the charming Greek-Canadian family next-door, or Butchy from down the block? Where have they all gone?