Quick Scots Porridge

Quick Scots Porridge

Okay, first, I need to say something about the cooking time of my Quick Scots Porridge before any purists have a fit.  I only cook it for a couple of minutes, but I know there are those who insist it should be bubbled for an age.  I think this idea that porridge has to be cooked for a long time back to when people used to make a huge pan of Scots Porridge for their large (by today’s standards) family which had to last them all days, maybe even a week.  My dad told me that’s how his mum did it when he was wee. 

They were poor, dad’s dad worked in the mines around Bathgate in Scotland and food was precious, so they had to eke it out.  He told me his mum only used a few handfuls of oats for between seven to ten people, depending who was living with them at the time.  The number of mouths in his house varied.  To explain, in the time and place he grew up, people got sick from diseases we no longer have to worry about, sometimes they didn’t recover, people, including members of his family died young.  So, it wasn’t strange for cousins to be living with them, decanted to the nearest family unit with a woman in the kitchen by their desperate widowed fathers.  In fact, my grandmother, my father’s mother died young of one of these diseases too and his older sister, who would have been no more than a young teenager at the time, took over the responsibility of bringing up the extended family. 

Dad told me he could remember his mum and subsequently his big sister cooking porridge on the stove for maybe an hour or more in a pan big enough to boil a whole pig (if only!).  Once it was ready and cooled, it would be decanted into a paper-lined drawer from which slices were cut to fill empty bellies over the course of the following days.  The pan would be straight back on the stove ready for the famous Scottish pan of soup that every working-class family grew up, a constant calm bubble, the background to our childhood.

The long cooking time for her porridge was because granny had to use a very different ratio of oats to liquid than I do.  Much more liquid, which for her would always have been water, meant the oats needed more time to do their work and thicken up the porridge.

When that’s your idea of porridge, you can understand where the saying came from, ‘Back tae auld claes en’purridge,’ which means, ‘back to old clothes and porridge’.  It’s something we Scots say when we’ve been partying, or holidaying or generally having a good time and it’s over, and we have to go back to the ordinary, to the mundane.  But even though the basic principle of my porridge is the same as my granny’s, there’s nothing mundane about my Quick Scots Porridge.

Recipe For Quick Scots Porridge

Preparation Time: A minute
Cooking Time: Less than 5 minutes
Serves: 4


250g rolled porridge oats
500ml water
½ tsp of salt
A couple, or more, tablespoons of honey
100 to 200ml milk
Some fresh fruit or berries.  My top choice would be raspberries or blueberries.  I like some chopped peaches or plums when in season too.


  1. Place the water, oats and salt in a heavy non-stick pan.  Put it on a medium high heat and allow it to come to a gentle boil.
  2. With the mixture bubbling softly, stir continuously, with a small headed wooden spoon or if you have it, a spurtle, until the oats soften, and the mixture takes on a creamy texture.  Cook the porridge until it takes on the consistency you prefer.  The longer you cook it, the thicker it will become.
  3. When it’s ready, divide into bowls then drizzle some honey and pour some milk over each portion.
Quick Scots Porridge

Tips and Variations

  • Try adding some cinnamon, a half to one teaspoon to the pan before you place it on the heat.  This acts as a natural sweetener and gives the porridge a nice depth.
  • For a richer porridge, swap the milk for single cream.  If that’s a wee bit too much, you can cook the oats in half water, half milk, or only milk.
  • If you dare, try another Scottish touch – a wee dram of whisky.  Just a splash along with the water before you start to heat your porridge mixture.
  • Here are some other ideas to top your porridge: Instead of honey, some jam on top is really nice too and can be a great option if you don’t have fresh berries.  Maple syrup instead of honey is another good option and works well with the whisky version.  Greek yogurt instead of milk is something I like to do.  And of course, a sprinkling of nuts and or seeds is always a great idea.  If you go for the cinnamon version, try this with stewed apples.
  • I never add sugar, not just because my dad used to spit at me, “That’s bloody English porridge!” if ever I dared reach for it, but because there’s something off-putting about the granular texture it leaves in the porridge.
  • If all this Scottish talk has put you in the mood for more, try my Scottish shortbread recipe.

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