you make these mistakes when cooking porridge?
Adding the salt too early
- this hardens the grain, preventing it from
swelling, and results in a less creamy bowl
- this is said to invoke the devil or bring
bad luck. Always stir deiseal (sunwise /
clockwise) with your right hand.
Stirring with a spoon
- 'they' (the traditional Scottish way to
refer to porridge) should be stirred with a spurtle.
Eat it at the table -
'they' should be eaten standing up. This I
think originates from when oats were eaten
which must have weighed heavy on the
The spurtle, or porridge stick,
was used before the advent of rolled oats. The
oatmeal had to soften and become edible, so it
had to be cooked for a long time. The spurtle
was used to stir it frequently to prevent the
formation of large lumps.
In Shetland, porridge is called
milgruel, and is sometimes made with bere-meal
which is a kind of barley. The Gaelic name is
I have always assumed that
spurtles were probably first made by taking a
thin branch of a tree and whittling the bark
off, but in
Buchan Words and Ways, Alexander
Fenton tells us that a spurtle could be made
from a worn sweeping brush handle.
In his book 'Treen and other
Wooden Bygones', Edward Pinto tells us that
"both spatulas and spurtles have their
origins in Scotland. There is some confusion in
terminology, but generally the drum-stick-like
porridge stirrer is called a spurtle and a flat
sided stirrer is a spatula. Both types of
implement have a long history."
The Oxford English Dictionary records both uses
of the word, dating back to 1572. The flat ones
were used for turning oatcakes.
A glossary of words used in the wapentakes of
Manley and Corringham, Lincolnshire, 1877,
records: Spurtle, N. a thin piece of wood used
for turning cakes on a girdle ; an implement
used in thatching.
More recently two other factors have added to
the confusion. First is the use by brewers of a
long handled paddle which they call a Brewers
Spurtle. Second is the popularization of a flat
stirrer by Graham Kerr which he called a
spurtle. He tells how he got the name: "Ten years
ago an elderly gentleman from New Zealand sent
me a Spurtle. He claimed that the name came from
the Scottish stirring stick, made of hard,
close-grained wood, used to whip porridge."
The Broughton Spurtle is a community
newspaper for Broughton in North Edinburgh. They
say they like to stir things up a bit, and
remind us that "A Scots spurtle is a wooden
rod for stirring porridge. Some readers may be 'spurtle-leggit'
– have thin, spindly legs."
'Spurtle' isn't a strange enough name...
......in some areas it is
spirtle or spurkle.
And an alternative name is
theevil, though there are even more alternative
spellings for this word: thivel, thible,
thyvelle, thyvil, thyvel, thieval, thibel,
thibble, thybel, thavel, thaivel, thabble and
The origins of the word are obscure, but those
spelled with v are probably oldest and was used
in Scotland and Northern England. Those spelled
with b are used only in Northern England and
appeared two centuries later.
A few quotes:
Alexander Ross, Helenore, 1768, "The thivel
on the pottage pan, Shall strick my hour to
Elizabeth Moxon, English Housewifry, c1750's,
"With a paste-pin or thible stir in your
flour to the butter".
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, 1847, "The
quicker the thible ran round..the faster the
handfuls of meal fell into the water."
Oxford English Dictionary.
bequeath my Porridge Pot
While searching the internet for
information about porridge, the most bizarre
thing I found was the Last Will and Testament of
Edward Major of Stowe Parva in England. When he
died in 1694, he left no less than three
porridge pots to his nearest and dearest.
His 'best brass porridge pot' went to his
granddaughter Ellen Major, and the 'last brass
porridge pot' to his grandson Edward Major. I
believe that the 'middle most brass porridge
pot' was left to a Mary Spatcher, though I find
the preamble a little confusing.
To learn what happened to his sheep and other
worldly possessions, you can read the whole will.
From A dictionary of Lowland
Spurtle or parritch spurtle, a
rounded stick or bar of hard wood, used in
preference to a spoon or ladle for stirring
oatmeal porridge in the process of cooking.
Jamieson—who seldom dives deeper than the
Teutonic—derives the word from spryten, the
Latin assula. The Gaelic has sparr or sparran, a
little wooden bar or bolt; and the Flemish has
sport, with the same meaning; and also that of
the rung of a ladder (a bar of wood which a
Scottish house-wife, in default of any better
spurtle, might conveniently use for the
purpose). Good bairns in the olden times when
oatmeal porridge was the customary food of the
peasantry, were often rewarded by having the
spurtle to lick in addition to their share of
Our gudeman came hame at e'en.
Our gudeman came hame at e'en,
And hame came he,
And there he saw a shining sword
Where nae sword should be:
What's this now, gudewife,
And what's this I see ?
O how came this sword here
Without the leave o' me ?
A sword! quo' she,—aye, a sword! quo' he.
Shame fa' yere cuckold face,
And waur may ye see,
It's but a porridge spurtle
My mither sent to me.
A spurtle! quo' he,—aye, a spurtle ! quo' she.
Far hae I ridden, love,
And meikle hae I seen,
But silver hiked spurtles
Saw I never nane.
This is one verse of a song collected by
David Herd in 1776. You can see the whole song
The songs of Scotland, ancient and modern.