Lothene Experimental Archaeology

History of Cooking

Part 1: Porridge

by Nicky Saunders

Porridge is a dish which has become associated with Scotland. It is made of oats stewed with either milk or water, and is served with salt or sugar and milk.
The first evidence for dishes resembling porridge is prehistoric. Neolithic farmers cultivated oats along with other crops. Various types of grains and grain meals could be stewed in water to form a thick porridge-like dish.
Anglo Saxon sources describe "briw" or "brewit" made from rye meal, barley meal or oats served plain or with vegetables in. There are also references to some types of porridges being fermented.
Eighteenth Century cookbooks such as Hannah Glasse's "The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy", 1747, give recipes for "Water Gruel" made of oatmeal and water, and flavoured with butter and pepper. It might be served with wine sauce, sherry and dried fruits by rich people, whereas the poor ate the dish on its own. It could be served with any meal at any time of the day.
Similar dishes included plumb porridge or barley gruel, made from barley and water, with dried fruit added. Burstin was made by roasting hulled barley grains and then grinding them, it could then be served with milk Frumenty was hulled wheat cooked with milk, cream and eggs and flavoured with spices.
Porridges and gruels were an easy way to cook grains. The grain only had to be cracked, not completely ground into flour. It could be cooked very simply in a pot at the edge of a fire. Bread required an oven to cook in.
It formed a basis for many dishes, both sweet and savoury. It was served with meat, stock or fat, as well as with vegetables, fruits, honey or spices. It could be allowed to cool and set in a "porridge drawer", and could then be sliced to be eaten cold or even fried.
Sugar only became widely available in Britain in the Eighteenth Century, so it was probably not used on porridge before then.


"The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy" - Hannah Glasse - reprinted by Prospect Books in 1983
"Food and Cooking in Prehistoric Britain" - Jane Renfrew - English Heritage - 1 85074 079 8
"Food and Cooking in Medieval Britain" - Maggie Black - English Heritage - 1 85074 081 X
"Food and Cooking in 18th Century Britain" - Jennifer Stead - English Heritage - 1 85074 084 4
"Pleyn Delit" - B.Hieatt, B.Hosington, S.Butler - University of Toronto Press - 0-8020-7632-7
"A Handbook of Anglo Saxon Food" - Ann Hagen - Anglo Saxon Books - 0-9516209-8-3
"The British Museum Cook Book" - Michelle Berriedale-Johnson - British Museum Press - 0-7141-1759-5
"A Feast of Scotland" - Janet Warren - Lomond Books - 1 85051 112 8

Saxon era
Saxon era
Viking era
Viking era
16th Century
16th Century
18th Century
18th Century