Today is the day I’m finally facing up to the various oatmeal recipes in The New Galt Cook Book (1898). It has an entire chapter dedicated to this grain. I like oatmeal porridge but some of the recipes do not sound appetizing particularly when they talk about gruel and I’m not entirely certain what sort of oatmeal is needed for each recipe. Some do specify rolled oats while others talk about coarse oatmeal. I visited Scotland many years ago and discovered they take oatmeal porridge very seriously. I decided to start with Mrs. Robertson of Woodstock’s recipe for Milk Oatmeal Porridge partly because a friend works in that city and drops me off at work each morning. I woke this morning to temperatures in the -20 C range so it seems like a good day for hot oatmeal porridge.
I wasn’t sure how much milk to use but decided to start with 1 cup of milk. Once it was boiling I added a few shakes of salt and 1/2 tablespoon butter. I had steel-cut oats and decided to try them with this recipe. I’ve never used them so I measured out 1 cup of oatmeal and started adding it by handfuls. I waited until the milk came to a boil again before adding each handful. I’ve made cornmeal porridge this way over an open-hearth and found that waiting for the liquid to return to the boil was the best technique. I also stirred with each addition to avoid lumps. There is a special wooden stick called a spurtle that is used for stirring oatmeal. I don’t know if it was common in Galt households in 1898. In the end I only needed a small amount of oatmeal for the amount of milk. I used almost 1/2 cup of oatmeal and soon realized that this was too much. I added a little more milk and left if to simmer with the lid on the sauce pan. I stirred occasionally. After 15 minutes I removed the oatmeal from the heat and it was ready to eat.
Mrs. Robertson could be one of at least three women in Woodstock. Jessie and George E. Robertson and Scottish born Peter and Ruth Robertson are the older couples. Kattie and John Robertson are slightly younger. All three couples have a number of children. So far I haven’t found the Galt connection for any of the Robertsons. Peter was a wood-carver, George worked in a dry goods store and John was a cabinet finisher.
My oatmeal was chewy. I don’t mind that texture but I should have let it cook for the full 20 minutes. I also checked the proportions given on the package of steel-cut oats and discovered it says 1 1/2 cups water or milk to 1/4 cup of oatmeal. The cooking time is 2o to 30 minutes depending on the preferred texture. I expected to dislike oatmeal made with milk but it was fine. If you can use the calories and can consume dairy then this makes a very nourishing stick to the ribs breakfast. My oatmeal was thicker than gruel (at least the way I imagine gruel) so reducing the amount of oatmeal would help. Although I might not make Mrs. Robertson’s version of oatmeal I am certainly going to try making my own from scratch oatmeal instead of instant packets all the time. It is easy, doesn’t take nearly as long as I expected, and I like the opportunity to make it to suit my taste and preferred texture and thickness. March is predicted to be colder than usual in Ontario so it is the perfect time to try homemade oatmeal and experience a little of life in 1898.
MILK OATMEAL PORRIDGE
Mrs. Robertson, Woodstock
Bring milk to a boil, add salt and a little butter, put in your oatmeal by handfuls gradually, and enough meal to make of the consistency of gruel. Boil fifteen or twenty minutes. Serve hot. Flour instead of oatmeal makes a very nice dish. Nice for invalids.