It’s getting cold. It’s already got dark: the week started with the drabbest day I can remember in London. Mind you, each year I am surprised by the rapid descent of the days into perma-dusk and the somehow unexpected annual loss of daylight leaves me leaden and fatalistic. In fact there is only one reason to feel jolly at the season: it is high time to start eating porridge again.
I like porridge, but I do not like the conditions that make porridge eating possible. True, it does give me an excuse to have bananas in the house (K really doesn’t like bananas. Really.) and to spend longer making breakfast, thereby legitimately delaying my arrival at this desk. But these advantages are marginal: more than anything the return of porridge signals the confident encampment in these parts of a coldness and darkness that will reside until long after my birthday. It is a time for hunkering down, for cursing this dark, damp island, and for dreaming of the return of daylight.
But at least there is porridge. As a child, it held little appeal, but then neither did coffee, olives or whisky. I did, of course, eat Ready Brek, like everyone else, but the attraction lay in the ladles of sugar I would sneak into the bowl. We’d head off to primary school pretending we were wrapped in a glowing band of orange warmth, unhinged by a little hyperactivity. It was less ‘central heating for kids’, more a frenetic sugar-rush. Oats had nothing to do with it.
But now, older and wiser as I am, oats are, you know, nice. Tasty, even. Last week, I mixed them into the dough of some home-made bread, as an experiment, and I plan to do the same at the weekend, to perfect the blend (I think 4:1, wheat to oats, is going to be about right).
I’m told that there are recipes for porridge, but I’ve never been much of a one for recipes. I learned how to make porridge by trial and error, and it is a permanently evolving art. Currently, I start a couple of centimetres of semi-skimmed milk heating in the bottom of a pan, then stir in whatever oats are in stock at Mother Earth, the local wholefood shop. For quantities, I improvise with a ramekin, depending on how hungry I feel. As the glutinous mass thickens I stir in a little kettle water until it looks right (as with custard, I favour the consistency of a slow liquid, rather than something you can slice…) Taking it off the heat, I stir in some sugar, maybe a teaspoon, and some sliced bananas.
It’s an ad hoc approach but by mid December I’ll have relearned the proportions that work. Then I should be able to make it in my sleep, which is handy because I am not a great morning person. By the time the sun comes back I might be bored of it. But not before.