A Year in the Secret Garden

Secret Garden Wednesday-Perfectly Good Porridge

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This time of year in the Secret Garden the earth is sleeping under a cloak of beautiful white snow. The birds have migrated off leaving the garden quiet from birdsong. This is the time of year when we clean up the garden when snow and rains allow. In the not too distant future, our garden will be exploding with life once again.

I thought we’d spend these last few weeks of winter together enjoying a few moments inside our book A Year in the Secret Garden. Marilyn Scott-Waters and I had more fun than two women should creating this activity guide to one of our favorite childhood books The Secret Garden.

Every Wednesday you can drop by here and find new and special happenings in the Secret Garden. There’ll be crafts, great food, fun, and laughter. So please be sure to come by and see us in our Secret Garden created just for you.

One of the things I love most about The Secret Garden is that together, Mary, Colin, and Dickon hold the key to.

One of our tasty treats in A Year in the Secret Garden is Porridge with Treacle. I’m sure all of you are asking, “what’s that ?” I thought today we’d take a closer look porridge, in fact, we’ll just have ourselves a little Porridge Fest. What do you say?

What is Porridge?

Porridge is a dish made by boiling ground, crushed, or chopped cereal in water, milk, or both, with optional flavorings such as sugar, cinnamon, nuts, raisins, is usually served hot in a bowl or dish.

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Have you ever noticed that in most of our favorite children’s classic stories that they are always serving porridge or it’s bad version equivalent gruel? There’s probably a good reason for that. Many of our favorite books are set in England or Great Britain. Northern Europe including Scandinavia has been eating porridge for centuries. I love the oat porridge of England and Scotland. My parents being from Sweden meant I ate a rice sort of porridge known as groat. Porridge can be made from any type of grain and is so very good and tasty.

Alistair Moffat, a DNA specialist from Great Britain said, “The greatest revolution of our history wasn’t the invention of the iPad, it wasn’t the invention of the steam engine, it wasn’t all the things you might lay your mind to. The great invention, the greatest revolution in our history was the invention of farming. Farming changed the world because of the invention of porridge.”

 Porridge is a hearty meal that can be modified to either a sweet dish or a savory dish depending on how seasonings are being added. Over the past couple hundred years, porridge is eaten as a breakfast meal and let’s one stay full most of the day. In the story the Secret Garden, people ate two meals a day. Porridge in the morning and then supper at night. It was only the upper classes that would have more than two meals a day. 

In other literary favorites such as Oliver Twist, “each boy had one porringer, and no more – except on occasions of great public rejoicing” –  has been viewed as a watery symbol of deprivation. The watery deprived version of porridge is known as gruel. The Roman armies as they occupied Great Britain were fed ‘water-grule’. Later various prison systems in Great Britain would serve their prisoners water-gruel and the term “doing gruel or doing porridge” became a term for being in prison.

Let’s look back a little bit into history and really see where the story of porridge leads us.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

In peasant cottages, there was no kitchen to cook in. The poorest families had only one room where they cooked, ate, worked and slept. It is also possible that most of these extremely poor families owned only one kettle. Poor town-dwellers usually didn’t even have that, and obtained most of their meals ready-made from shops and street vendors in the Medieval version of “fast-food.”

Those who lived on the edge of starvation had to make use of every edible item they could find, and just about everything could go into the pot (often a footed kettle that rested in the fire rather than over it) for the evening meal. This included beans, grains, vegetables and sometimes meat — often bacon. Using a little meat in this manner would make it go farther as sustenance.

To really understand porridge we really must go to Scotland. Porridge or Parritch is one of the national dishes of Scotland.

Traditions surround the making and eating of porridge. Stirring should always be done clockwise (for luck) with a spirtle or theevil, a wooden stick tapering to a rounded point, for stirring, and a carved head. In Scots, porridge was always referred to in the plural and was customarily eaten while standing, but the reasons for this latter custom aren’t really known. Some think it was due to the proverb: “A staunin’ sack fills the fu’est” (A standing sack fills the fullest), while others thought people ate standing up in case of a surprise enemy attack.

Once cooked, the porridge is ladled into porringers (bowls) with a separate bowl of milk, buttermilk, or thin cream close by. Each spoonful of porridge was dipped into the cold liquid and then eaten. Some sprinkled sugar over the porridge, and others preferred honey, treacle or syrup, or a small square of butter. Porridge was sometimes poured into a drawer in the kitchen dresser to be sliced when cold, either for eating out in the fields or for reheating in the evening.

Porridge for your Health

Porridge is highly nutritious because oatmeal contains protein, carbohydrate, fats, and soluble fiber, all the B vitamins, vitamin E, calcium, and iron. For the very poor in Great Britain, porridge prevented scurvy and other ailments from the lack of vitamins A, C, and D when one added to milk and vegetables to the porridge.

What is Treacle?

So now we get to the sweet stuff. For those of us who live in the United States, treacle will be a mystery but I’m hoping to end that for you right now. For those of you who live in Great Britain or the Commonwealth, I imagine treacle has found a way to your heart, stomach, and table.

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Treacle is what we call molasses here in the States. Treacle is any un-crystallized syrup made during the refining of sugar. The most common forms of treacle are the pale syrup known as golden syrup and the darker syrup usually referred to as dark or black treacle. Dark treacle has a distinctively strong, slightly bitter flavor, and richer color than golden syrup, yet not as dark as molasses. Golden syrup is the main sweetener in treacle tart.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, Treacle Tart and Treacle Pudding were among Harry’s favorite foods.

Molasses has a stronger and more robust taste than treacle. In the US molasses is found in bottles in the baking section of your grocery store and treacle can be found in cans/tins in grocery stores in Great Britain.

Secret Garden Wednesdays-too much fun NOT to read!

Enjoy more month-by-month activities based on the classic children’s tale, The Secret Garden! A Year in the Secret Garden is a delightful children’s book with over 120 pages, with 150 original color illustrations and 48 activities for your family and friends to enjoy, learn, discover and play with together.

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Whimsical author/illustrator Marilyn Scott-Waters and I created this book to not only encourage families to read and participate in some “unplugged” activities but to also delve into the beauty and the wonder of this classic children’s tale. Get the full scoop on this vibrant book HERE and “meet me in the garden!”

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1 thought on “Secret Garden Wednesday-Perfectly Good Porridge

  1. This is fascinating, Valarie! Thank you so much for making this information available to us this way. I’d always figured porridge was some sort of hot cereal, but never looked into it. And I had no idea what treacle was, though yes, have heard it in Harry Potter (rereading the series now!). Love this 🙂

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