Shirley Spear’s overnight oats
THERE’S always something new for my generation to try and this idea is something quite delicious of which I wholeheartedly approve. We will never encourage the younger generation to live by our old-fashioned ways, but we can meet them halfway with their zany, adopted lifestyles and when it comes to eating a healthier diet, this is something very important to embrace.
Food-on-the-go is something my mother definitely would have frowned upon. In fact, it was against regulations at my Edinburgh secondary school to be seen eating in the street if wearing our uniform, complete with hideous hat. Undaunted by the rule book and fearless of haughty prefects, we shared out packs of chewing gum and rolled up our waistbands to shorten our skirts as soon as we were outside the gate, pinning our hats to the back of our backcombed hair with Kirby grips. We walked everywhere to save on bus fares, setting off into town after school with just enough to spend in Joe’s Coffee Bar in Lothian Road. It was wonderful there, with its juke box, bright orange décor and secret booths to huddle in. The glass cups and saucers were the height of sophistication and it was glorious to be seen there with the in-crowd and a coffee.
Today it seems that everywhere is a coffee shop, yet dozens of people can be seen walking along the streets carrying takeaway cups. Eating out is commonplace and businesses have geared up to provide instant, easy meals at all times of the day. On the good side, these can be delicious, healthy and nutritious, but there are many quick fixes which could be better and some that should be avoided completely.
For me, there’s nothing worse than sitting on the bus or train with the neighbouring passenger digging in greedily to their takeaway meal and drink. The smell of fried fast food can be nauseating. Even if I haven’t eaten all day, I still find it difficult to eat on public transport, although I have been known to partake of a ScotRail coffee and shortbread – discreetly, of course. I once took a breakfast croissant on board for the journey through to Glasgow and was overcome with embarrassment as the crumbs cascaded down my shirt-front and into my lap. Never again.
And so it’s been with immense interest that I have watched the growth of mobile porridge bars in Scotland. One Edinburgh company in particular, Stoats, is so successful, it’s grown exponentially within the past 12 years. Their little pots of instant porridge, oat bars and other products have crept onto supermarket shelves and been copied by the big, traditional producers of porridge oats, sizingup to the new competition.
It is, of course, so much more economical to buy a packet of rolled oats and make a pot for the family first thing in the morning. There is nothing cheaper, more sustaining, nor healthier to start the day, than a bowl of hot porridge. Scatter with fresh berries or a spoonful of brown sugar or honey and it becomes a warm hug in a bowl. But for those who are always in a rush to get somewhere on time, grabbing an instant pot to reheat at break time, or to eat on the hoof is often the alternative.
How life has changed. I laugh at the thought of having a microwave in the office. The highlight of the day in my very first job in Dundee, was the tea lady with her trolley and the brown-stained, thick blue melamine cups. As the junior, it was my job to collect the hot drinks from the corridor and deliver them to the boss and my colleagues, politely placing the cups carefully on their desks and handing round the biscuits. We were forbidden to chat and the daily rigmarole was conducted in silence.
Next Saturday, October 7, I will be in Carrbridge, helping to judge the 21st World Porridge Making Championships. No doubt this will be a rowdier, more festive occasion than my memories of sad office coffee breaks. Competitors and spectators will flock to the small village, which is just off the A9 between Aviemore and Inverness.
International following has increased year-on-year for this Highland event, and the line-up for 2017 will see entrants from as far afield as Iceland, Russia and Switzerland, as well as Scotland and many other countries. The competitors have the most random assortment of backgrounds and I am looking forward to meeting them all – and seeing how they make their basic porridge. I judged this competition once before, several years ago. As with my experience of judging marmalade in the Lake District’s annual Marmalade Awards, it is surprising how different a simple recipe can manifest itself in such a wide range of finished products. Competition to win the coveted 2017 Golden Spurtle Award will be hard-fought.
As well as making traditional porridge, beginning by soaking oatmeal overnight, there will be a second competition for the most unusual recipe.
Having already written about traditional porridge, I had wondered what to do in celebration of the Championships. Then someone much younger than me suggested I should highlight overnight oats. To my shame I’d never heard of this, but having tried it out using wild brambles I agree it tastes absolutely delicious.
There are all number of alternatives to this recipe, as any combination of fruit, nuts and seeds can be added to the basic oats, milk and yoghurt mixture. You can create your own family favourites for this instant breakfast in a jam jar. It takes only a small taste of fresh fruit to make a pot come alive and the flavours meld so naturally with the oats. A mixture of uncooked oatmeal with liquid is called a brose in the Scots language. The popular term became synonymous with shared food of any kind as well as alcoholic drinks based upon the creamy brose. Oatmeal lends itself to many flavours, both sweet and savoury, wild or cultivated. It is the most versatile ingredient and full of natural goodness. Everyone should enjoy porridge oats every day, sitting in, on-the-hoof, snacking or grazing. After all, the Scots grew strong on the mighty oat and sometimes, we could all do with a reboot.
(Makes 1 generous portion) 75g porridge oats 125ml fresh milk 2 tbsp natural yoghurt 2 tbsp wild Scottish brambles 1 small eating apple, preferably a sharp-tasting, heritage variety, peeled, cored and grated 1 tbsp runny honey 50g walnuts, chopped small
1. Put the oats in a jam jar with a good fitting lid. Pour the milk over the oats. Add a layer of grated apple and half the brambles. Cover with a layer of half the yoghurt. Add the remaining apple and brambles on top. Finish with remaining yoghurt. 2. Scatter the chopped walnuts on the surface and decorate with a bramble and whole walnut half, if liked. Drizzle the honey over the surface. 3. Secure the lid on the jar and refrigerate overnight. The oats will be ready to eat in the morning – before or after you leave the house – and no cooking involved. Shirley Spear is owner of The Three Chimneys and The House Over-By on the Isle of Skye www.threechimneys.co.uk