Today is World Porridge Day, an international event first held in 2009 to raise funds for the charity Mary’s Meals, based in Argyll in Scotland, to aid starving children in developing countries. The organization feeds the nutrient-rich maize-based porridge Likuni Phala to about 320,000 children in Malawi each year. The 2009 day included gatherings in the United States, France, Malawi, Bosnia and Sweden. There’s a lot to say about porridge, starting with the word itself.
My father always insisted on spelling the word “porage” which is an alternate spelling that he believed was somehow more traditional or more Scottish, presumably because of the spelling – Scott’s Porage Oats – on the box of the brand we used. The spelling “porage” is, indeed, slightly older than “porridge” but it was a general word for soupy things, a variant of “pottage” from the French “potage.” In the 1530s, when the word appears in English, it was spelled “porage” and meant a soup of meat and vegetables. The word may have been a bastardized mix of “pottage” and “porray” (“leek broth”) from Old French. The spelling with -idge is first attested from c. 1600, and is first attested as specifically a dish of oats in Scotland in the 1640s. The Scots Gaelic is brochan, which my father, if he really wanted to be a Scots traditionalist should have used instead of porage. Ah well – he frequently got adamant about things Scots that were largely pointless and often wrong. It’s generally not a good idea to argue with an ex-pat Scot about Scotland.
The World Porridge Making Championship has taken place alongside World Porridge Day since 2009. The Championship has actually been running since 1994, but became connected to World Porridge Day when it was launched. The Championship is divided into two categories: Traditional and Specialty. Traditional porridge must be made from only oats, water, and salt, and is judged on taste, look, and texture. The main prize for this category is the Golden Spurtle trophy and the title “World Porridge Making Champion.” A spurtle is the traditional tool used to stir porridge. The best Speciality Porridge must also be made with oatmeal, but contenders can add other ingredients of their choosing. The competition takes place at the village hall in Carrbridge, in the Cairngorms National Park and is run by volunteers on behalf of the Carrbridge Community Council
Porridge is certainly as old as the domestication of cereals, and was a ubiquitous staple wherever cereals were domesticated. Porridge can be made with any cereal imaginable and goes by different names in different cultures. If you want to call it polenta or grits or congee or whatever, go ahead. It’s all porridge: boiled grains in water. Generally, the word “porridge” throughout the UK means oat porridge. It was a breakfast mainstay in my family in the winter months. I ate it with sugar added, but my father preferred some milk and salt.
The general recipe for the day is starkly obvious, but the choice of porridge is entirely up to you. Mary’s Meals, who began the observance of World Porridge Day, sponsors Likuni Phala making in Malawi. At present Mary’s Meals provides porridge to about 25% of Malawi’s primary school age children at their schools. More information can be found here – http://mamalita.org.uk/2016/09/28/focus-on-likuni-phala/
1 cup ground cooked soy beans
4 cups coarse cornmeal
Mix together the ground soy beans and cornmeal. Place in a large cooking pot with 15 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking.
As with any porridge, Likuni Phala can be served as is, as a main meal or side dish, or you can add whatever ingredients you want. In Malawi peanuts and fruit are the commonest additions.