Let's start with the porridge I had this morning. What I was trying to produce was a porridge with a relatively small amount of oats that would be smooth but still have texture and taste.
The night before, I mixed 1/3 cup (75 ml) of Watermill pinhead oatmeal and 1 cup cold water.
In the morning, I placed them in a double boiler with 1/3 cup milk (so the total liquid is 300 ml).
I cooked for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until it began to thicken and was smooth with no separate liquid.
And I served it in a warmed bowl with one teaspoon of Tess's plum jam (recipe to follow in a later post). Nothing else.
As we will see, every part of this recipe involves decisions, some of which are controversial: the choice of grain, the way the grain is milled (and toasted or not), the amount and type of liquid it is cooked in, the soaking, the length and method of cooking, the stirring implement and direction of stirring, the addition of salt (or not), other additions such as jam (or sugar, honey, fruit, nuts, syrup), and even the vessel in which it is served. You can get some idea of the variations from a web-page on Scottish cooking, BBC Food, a Guardian column by Sybil Kapoor, the blog Break Fast Habits, and Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks (using quinoa of course).
In this blog, I will make and eat some of these variations. It may seem that porridge does not need this kind of attention; a method is given on any pack of oatmeal. But I am interested in how different the various versions are, and in what I can learn about the basic combination of oats, water, heat, and time.
I have some wider questions too. Why is porridge so often laughed at or put down? Risotto or polenta - other grains cooked in water to make them smooth and filling - get many pages in current cookbooks, and porridge does not. Bread baking has blogs and lovely cookbooks devoted to it; as far as I know, porridge does not. (Well, that's not fair - there is the intermittent but enthusiastic The Porridge Blog, which I'd missed because it is on Facebook).
While porridge has a thin culinary following, it has a thick cultural tradition. People may not have porridge for breakfast, but they have memories of porridge leading back to old kitchens, farmhouses, holidays, and camping trips. They remember special porridge and truly awful porridge, and they have all sorts of opinions and associations. I am not going to try to find the right way to make porridge, but I am interested in why people think one way or another is tasty, healthy, repulsive, satisfying, or just right.
And I will try to come up with a way to photograph the stuff (I see there are lots of attempts on Flickr).