Monday, September 15, 2008

Railway Breakfast(s)

The Oxford Symposium is over for another year, and a fantastic event it was indeed. It manages the most egalitarian atmosphere of any 'conference' I have ever attended, as well as being the most fun. There were some very erudite and interesting papers on 'Vegetables' , but we also managed to eat some great food, had the opportunity to make Arcimboldo-inspired pictures with fruit and veg, and listened to the sounds that plants make by themselves - and some that humans make using vegetables as instruments. The 'Carrot Crunch Concerto' was really something, and I sincerely hope that someone has U-tubed it.

Today, if all goes according to plan, I should be heading off to York by train. I love train travel, and it gives me an excuse to relate a fine rail-food story that I have wanted to tell you for a long time.
The late ninteteenth century was a time of great competition between railroads. Speed was the thing, and railway races attracted a great deal of interest. In Scotland in 1895 a young man called Norman McDonald set off on the East Coast Flyer from London to Edinburgh – and managed four breakfasts on the trip.
“I did the feat of having four breakfasts in four divers places. (1) Soon after midnight one of my co-lunatics in our “sleeper’ produced a flask and very massive sandwiches. (2) After Berwick-on-Tweed the attendant gave us coffee and biscuits. (3) not long after 5 am we were hammering on the doors of the Imperial Hotel in Aberdeen calling for food. On getting in I said the Cockney pressmen must have real porridge for once, “and mind they have milk, all proper, and no beastly treacle or sugar.” The poor waiter said “There is no milk!” I blazed into Highland fire, which he damped down by saying “Man! The coos is no milket yet!” (4) I caught the “Flying Scotsman” portion from Aberdeen and landed in Edinburgh at 9.40 am, dashed to my nearby house to find the joyful remains of the family feed still on the table. I had done nearly 200 miles between my second and third breakfasts, and about 130 miles bteween the third and fourth ones!”
Four breakfasts - what a good thing to aspire too! I feel sure it would help one to adapt to time differences on international trips. One could extend the concept to multiple lunches and dinners too.
Here is Porridge, with preliminary Comments, from the redoubtable Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s)
Porridge, Oatmeal
Oatmeal porridge is a leading article of food with the Scottish peasantry. It is generally accompanied with milk when milk is to be had; when milk is very scarce, butter is sometimes used, sometimes sugar, and sometimes treacle beer. …. Whey is sometimes used instead of water for the making of oatmeal porridge, and affords an agreeable variety for those using porridge every day. Milk porridge is another variety esteemed an especial luxury by the Scottish peasantry, and is certainly both an agreeable and very nutritious article of diet. Whether fine oatmeal or coarse oatmeal should be used for the making of porridge is merely a matter of taste.
Put a pint and a half of water or milk and water into a saucepan and add a pinch of salt. When the liquid fully boils, as it is rising in the pan, sprinkle gradually two ounces of oatmeal into it with the left hand, and at the same time stir briskly with a fork held in the right hand. Keep stirring till the lumps are beaten out. Boil the mixture for a quarter of an hour, pour it on a plate, and eat it with milk and sugar.
[I wonder what it is like with treacle beer?]


Liz + Louka said...

Did that recipe really say "a matter of paste"? I can see that could be so if the oatmeal was too fine...

The Old Foodie said...

OOPS. It is a matter of taste, not paste, obviously.
Memo to self: must proof-read more carefully.
Thanks for the alert Liz/Louka!

Tiny Banquet Committee said...

Norman McDonald sounds like my ideal traveling companion; too bad he is no longer with us.
I can't comment on the use of treacle beer in oatmeal but I do have a recommendation, inspired by the preparation of risotto: Before adding water to the pan, heat a tablespoon or so of butter until it starts to brown. Add the uncooked oats and give them a good stir so that they're thoroughly coated. Then add the water and cook as usual.