Porridge refers to hot cereal grains or ground legumes boiled in water or milk, and often served as a breakfast food. Almost every culture has some variation of this dish, based on the most available grains in that area. It may be called hot mush, hot cereal, or hot meal, depending upon where it is served.
Traditional porridge in the UK is often made with oats. In Scotland, it may also be spelled as porage after a brand name of oats sold. Porridge is also used to make gruel, oft referred to in Victorian literature. Gruel, which is merely watered down porridge, could be prescribed for those with sensitive appetites and to treat a variety of ailments. English and American gruel is certainly not the only medicinal use of this dish. The Chinese use rice congee mixed with herbs to treat people recovering from illness.
In the United States, we have numerous variants of porridge. These include cereals made from wheat, ground corn, ground rice, and multi-grain cereals. Generally cooking time on these cereals directly correlates to the amount of processing of the grains used. Whole grains usually take the longest to cook, and finely flaked grains, like baby oats or small pieces of wheat can take a short time.
Many porridge varieties are “quick” varieties, which cut cooking time down to a minute or two. Other varieties are instant and merely require the application of boiling water to result in a hot cereal. Aficionados may turn up their noses at instant varieties, since they often lack the grainy or nutty taste of less processed grains.
One type of porridge that has not attained great popularity in the US is made of peasemeal, made from ground dried yellow peas. Peasemeal porridge is also known as peas porridge, peas pudding, or peas meal. As found in the nursery rhyme “Peas Porridge Hot,” it is popular in Northern England and has been compared in taste and texture to hummus. It may be served with bacon, and is frequently available in butcher’s shops.
The list of grains that can produce porridge is extensive. In addition to the most recognizable corn, oats, rice, and wheat, the following grains can make different variants: buckwheat, quinoa, rye, millet, sorghum and barley.
Toppings exhibit extraordinary variance. In the US and in the UK, porridge is often topped with brown sugar and butter. Sometimes, it makes a base for savory sauces like polenta topped with marinara or grits with gravy. Some people enjoy the dish topped with eggs, salt and pepper.