Legend has it that when Samuel Johnson boasted to his friend James Boswell that in England “we wouldn’t think of eating oats. We only feed them to horses” Boswell retorted “Well, maybe that’s why in England you have better horses, and in Scotland we have better men.”
Anyone who knows the nourishing power of a hearty bowl of porridge – whether served with salt, sugar, honey or indeed any other way you fancy – will attest that Boswell was in the right and Johnson firmly in the wrong.
The celebration of Scotland’s favourite rib-sticking breakfast fayre – held annually at the onset of winter – has become an international event, with interest raised from around the world.
But an Edinburgh man is hoping to bring the world championship trophy back home next week for an unprecedented third time,
John Boa is one of an elite band of 30 competitors who have been selected to participate in the 25th annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship at Carrbridge on October 6. The 57-year-old, who has won the prestigious title in 2011 and 2013, is hoping to bring the title back to Scotland after last year’s competition was won by a Swede.
The trophy goes to the maker of the best traditional porridge using only oatmeal, salt and water. But he faces fierce competition including a Russian café owner, a Finnish pastry chef and other past winners.
Mr Boa told the Evening News the secret behind producing a world-class porridge was to “keep stirring”, using a spurtle – a rod-shaped tool, traditionally used to stir porridge.
He also said adding the salt was “always a key moment”.
“You have to make sure you don’t oversalt or undersalt,” he said. “It has to be just right.”
And John likes to practice what he preaches, having breakfasted on porridge every day when completing bike rides between Land’s End and John O’Groats.
“I was undoubtedly helped along the way by a morning intake of porridge,” he said.
John is a traditionalist and likes his porridge plain but admits he has a tendency to sweeten it up from time to time with cream or maple syrup.
He is also participating in the speciality category and plans to impress judges with his porridge with butterscotch sauce and hazelnuts.
Past recipes in the section have included the use of curry powder, sausages and seafood.
He said: “It’s a lot of fun but when we start we all try our hardest. No one has won it three times so it would be wonderful to win again. I’ve seen some interesting flavours in the past including Moroccan lamb and I tried a beer and nuts porridge once which didn’t go down well with the judges.
“It is something so simple but it’s great to test myself against professional cooks.
“I’ve always loved porridge. I used to have it a lot at home when I was growing up. I’ve been practising every day and I’m looking forward to the competition and I hope to bring the trophy home.”