Walking through my local supermarket the other day I glanced at the exotic products shelf.
I live in Provence, in southern France, and the exotic range usually comprises a few things you don’t normally find in France like Marmite, English breakfast tea and soy sauce. On this occasion though I noticed a box of Scott’s Porridge Oats.
I looked twice simply because I used to live in Scotland and liked porridge and hadn’t seen it sold here in Provence. I can’t say I’d ever thought about it here because the range of French ingredients and foods is so wonderful that I have a hard time thinking about any other food except French (apart from Thai and Vietnamese of course which are delicious and sometimes Italian because I’m near the border and Italian food influence spills over into the south of France to an extent.)
Anyway, I looked at the porridge and the porridge looked at me. Then we left the supermarket together.
The next day I ate a bowl of hot porridge for breakfast. Swirled the milk in the pan, sprinkled the porridge oats in, heated them for three minutes, poured them into a bowl and added a dollop of my friend’s excellent raspberry jam. The porridge was so good I ate two more bowls full.
I know Scottish purists (or puritans) will say porridge should be made with water and a little salt and I agree that adding sugar is horrible. But a bit of jam is good….
I decided to try porridge out on a French neighbour. She looked at it dubiously, dipped a spoon in, tasted it gingerly and pronounced it degueulasse – revolting. She said it had no flavour.
But it has. She just needs to eat it during a few bleak Scottish winters to taste it. Porridge is subtle. It’s chunky and hearty and filling but it’s subtle too. You need to look out for the taste of oats when you eat it. You need to sense the mist and the highlands and islands and remember that past generations of hardy Scots lived long lives in tough conditions thanks to stewed venison, hot haggis, smoky whiskies and nutritious oats in bowls of warm porridge.
In fact, I had no idea of the nutritional value or vitamin or mineral content of porridge oats so I had a look at the packet. It appears that oats regulate cholesterol and are rich in fibre, protein, B vitamins, iron and magnesium. Magnesium is meant to be a mood-boosting vitamin and I can report that I was in extremely good spirits all day and simply have an instinct that it was down to all those porridge oats.
There is a story that a man in Scotland many years ago placed a bet with the bookie William Hill that he would live to be a hundred. The bookies promised to pay him 25,000 pounds if he did. He did. When they paid out, they asked him how he’d known he’d live to be 100? His reply was that he knew he would – because he ate a bowl of porridge every morning!
Wouldn’t it be interesting if he was right? It’s easy to imagine that this very plain, very simple, unassuming but somehow charismatic food nourishes the body well and boosts the immune system against the cold of winter. I’m putting it on my personal menu for the winter months – even if it does seem incongruous beside the cuisine of southern France!