Anyone reasonably familiar with Scottish traditions knows that oats is iconic in that country’s history. It was boiled and eaten plain, with a wooden stick or spoon. Standing up, too, at least so I’ve read for male adults in the family. (How I know this is unclear even to me, but I do).
The famed English author Samuel Johnson once made the jibe that oats is a food for horses but in Scotland it supports the people, rather unfair considering England had its own dishes off the beaten track: broiled kidney, boiled sheep’s head, simmered tripe…
In Canada in the 1950s and 60s, porridge as we called it was popular. Probably this reflected the strong Scottish element in the Montreal I grew up in. In those days there was no instant oatmeal. It was boiled long in water in the auld Scots way.
In our house, we ate it with milk and some salt. Some families added sugar. We had a surfeit of sucrose in other forms: honey cake, chocolate cake, chocolate bars (Smarties, Cadbury bars, etc.), sugar and raisin pie, soft drinks. So the sugar saved in the porridge was more a blessing than anything else, not that dentists weren’t kept busy for generations from the cake, pop, and chocolate bars we hoovered.
I think it was last year that Libby placed some porridge down for breakfast, and I had a go, the first time in decades. First, the taste hadn’t changed. People say “you can’t go home again”, but I did in this case.
Agronomers and plant breeders haven’t dented the 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 stuff from the Dead Sea, but porridge tastes like I remember.
Only, where’s my leather breeches? My double-zippered, fleece-lined overshoes, the 161 bus on Van Horne, Mrs. Quackenbush at Coronation School…? Where is the guy who drove his car from New York with Beatles and other 45s and sold them to my cousins and me from the curb?
Where is Morty, who owned the corner shop that sold the chocolates that kept those dentists in clover for generations? Where is Socky, from the charming family next door, or Butchy from down the block?