Category Archives: Oatmeal

Day 325: Delicious Gruel

What to make? What to make? I’ve been sitting here for an hour trying to decide what to make tonight from the 1898 New Galt Cook Book. Should it be sweet or savoury? What ingredients do I have in the fridge and pantry? This is what happens most nights but tonight I’m not very inspired. Well, until I looked at the section called Oatmeal. There were the recipes for gruel and porridge I’ve tried this year but there are still a few I haven’t made yet. I finally settled on an anonymous one for Delicious Gruel. My stomach is slightly upset and so perhaps this will be a perfect remedy.

I put 1 cup of Quaker rolled oats in a saucepan and added 1 pint (2 cups) of cold water. Also, I put 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in the pan. I turned the heat on and cooked the mixture for 10 minutes. I kept stirring as indicated in the recipe. When it was done I tried to strain it and ended up simply using a spoon to get as much liquid and some thicker bits to make 1 cup. Next I separated 2 eggs and whipped the whites. I added them to the oatmeal “jelly” plus 1/2 cup of cream. Then I added 1 tablespoon of sugar (I like sweet things) and grated some nutmeg on top. I realize that I’m about to taste something containing raw egg whites but it was very common in the 19th and early 20th century.

Delicious Gruel is better than I expected. This is oatmeal porridge with a twist. It tasted pretty good and is easy to eat. This would be nice when trying to eat with a sore throat but of course the raw egg is a problem. If you really want to try making this recipe search out a carton of pasteurized egg whites at the grocery store. They are usually close to the fresh eggs.


Take one cupful of rolled oats, add to it a pint of cold water, add a little salt. Cook the oats for about ten minutes, stirring so that it does not burn, strain it. You should have a cupful of oatmeal jelly from it, add one-half cup of cream and the beaten whites of two eggs. Beat all together, sweeten the mixture, grate a very little nutmeg over the top.


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Day 90: Oatmeal Gruel

Sandwiched between the chapter on doughnuts and the drinks part of the 1898 New Galt Cook Book is a section called Oatmeal. So far I’ve made the Milk Porridge recipe but tonight I’m trying the Oatmeal Gruel using Miss Wardlaw‘s recipe. I wasn’t surprised to find oatmeal in a cook book from Galt but I am baffled by the number of recipes for gruel rather than oatmeal porridge.

I knew I was going out tonight to speak to¬† a women’s group much like the one that created this cook book. I was feeling a bit under the weather today and so a simple, and probably bland, recipe appealed to me. I also knew I had time to soak the oatmeal before I left the house and could prepare the gruel when I returned home. Since I expect this to be awful I decided to make just half the recipe. I put 1 cup (1/2 pint) of my coarse Scottish style oatmeal in a bowl with 2 cups (1/2 quart) of water. I left it on the counter to soak while I was away. I returned home after speaking to a wonderful group of women about this cook book. The oatmeal had been soaking for about four hours so it was ready to strain. My strainer has been taking a beating lately and so I decided to try an alternative. I simply picked up the oatmeal in my hand and squeezed out the liquid. I kept doing that until I’d removed all the oatmeal. It was at this point I wondered if there was anything I could do with this “used” oatmeal since it is the liquid I wanted. I set it aside and did a final straining through my fingers as I poured the liquid into a saucepan. I suspect my method of straining is what people did who couldn’t afford a kitchen full of equipment. Besides … it worked!

I set the saucepan on medium heat and brought it to the boil. At this point I tasted the liquid, and although it was watery, it tasted simply of oatmeal. It wasn’t too bad. I thought that perhaps it should be a bit thicker so I let it boil for a few minutes and it did thicken somewhat. I started to add the nutmeg, sugar and salt. This has to be by taste. I didn’t put very much nutmeg or salt in and then added about a teaspoon of sugar. I tasted a tiny bit and seemed okay so I proceeded to the next step. I put 1 tablespoon of cream in a glass and then poured in the gruel. I stirred and steeled myself to taste Oatmeal Gruel for the first time.

What do you think of when you hear the word gruel? I suspect it is not a positive image. I think of Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Bronte’s Jane Eyre both of them orphans living in terrible situations. However, based on other recipes in this section of the cook book, gruels are for sick people, particularly those with digestive complaints. This probably would help someone who can’t manage solid food for whatever reason.

This invalid feeder is part of the collection of the Museum of Healthcare in Kingston.

This invalid feeder is part of the collection of the Museum of Healthcare in Kingston.

It could be drunk, spoon fed or even put in an invalid feeder sometimes called a pap cup or boat. They were a bit like a child’s sippy cup since they were partially covered and had a spout for drinking. Some look a bit like a gravy boat. They could be used for liquid or semi liquid food. The patient sips from the spout or the person nursing could just slowly pour the liquid into a patient’s mouth as long as they were capable of swallowing it. They were also a way to introduce food or “pap” to a baby. I visited the Museum of Health Care in Kingston Ontario this winter and they have all sorts of interesting artifacts and exhibits. Check it out here.

A glass of gruel

A glass of gruel

I guess if I needed digestible food then Miss Wardlaw’s Oatmeal Gruel would be okay but I missed the texture of oatmeal. I think I prefer the gruel without sugar, salt, or nutmeg. The nutmeg is an interesting idea for oatmeal. I’m accustomed to cinnamon with oatmeal so I might try using nutmeg the next time I make porridge. Sipping gruel or even using a spoon is a bit like trying some of the meal replacement drinks and protein shakes. There’s just something missing. I continued to sip as it cooled and it was still palatable if not exciting.

For all my discussion of the palatability of Oatmeal Gruel it is important to realize how important these types of recipes were for so many women in 1898. Their loved ones could die from diseases that are preventable or treatable in 2014. Just like today they were desperate to try to keep their loved ones alive even when it seemed there was no hope. Getting some nourishment into the sick or injured person could mean they would live. Miss Wardlaw was a nurse and would have lots of experience with this sort of feeding. Three weeks ago I made her recipe for another easy to eat food called panada. Margaret “Maggie” Wardlaw was born in 1862 to Scottish born parents. She grew up in Galt Ontario and it looks like she was the only girl in the family. The eldest of her three brothers became a doctor. Eventually after working as a nurse, she ends up living with this brother and perhaps acting as his nurse in his practice. At some point she ends up in Newmarket and that’s where she dies at the age of 70.


Miss Wardlaw

Soak one pint of oatmeal in one quart of water for some hours, then strain and boil. Flavor with nutmeg, sugar and salt. Have two tablespoons of cream in a tumbler. Pour in the gruel, stir and serve.

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Day 59: Milk Oatmeal Porridge

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.

Milk Oatmeal Porridge

Milk Oatmeal Porridge

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.

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.

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