William Ellis (c1700-1758) was a farmer in Herefordshire, England, who became a prolific and popular writer on agriculture and rural domestic economy. In his book The Country Housewife's Family Companion (1750) he discussed oatmeal at some length. The short piece provides an interesting perspective on the importance of oatmeal to folk of the time – especially the ‘poorer sort’ – throughout Europe.
In Praise of Oatmeal.
Oats are so valuable a Pulse, that their Meal is made use of in many Nations. But I presume most of all in the northern Parts of Europe, where their Excellence is proved by growing where Wheat, Rye, and some other Sorts of Grain will not. And by its becoming a cheap, sweet, nourishing, wholesome Bread, preserves the Lives of Millions of People in sound Health. Six several Sorts of it may be made, every one finer than the other, as your Anacks, Janacks, and such like. There are also made of it both thick and thin Oatcakes, which are pleasant in Taste and much esteemed. But if it be mixt with very fine Wheat-meal, it maketh a most delicate dainty Oatcake; such that no Prince in the World but may have them served at his Table. And it i's on this Account that vast Numbers of them are toasted and consumed in Winter-time especially, for their agreeable Eating, as a Breakfast with Tea. Great and small Oatmeal mixed, with Blood and the Liver of either Sheep, Calf, or Swine, maketh that Black-pudding, which is well known and affected by most Men. Likewise from small Oatmeal is made that excellent, pleasant, cooling, wholesome Dish called Flummery: A Food so agreeable to all Constitutions, that Physicians have praised it for the best of Food to sick and well People, eaten with Honey, which is reputed the best Sauce, some Wine, either Sack, Claret, or White Wine, Beer, Ale, or Milk. And for the bigger Sort of Oatmeal called Greets or Grouts, many Sorts of Puddings are made, as the Black made with the Blood of Swine, Sheep, Geese, red or sallow Deer, or the like, mixt with Greets or whole Oatmeal, Suet, and wholesome Herbs. Or else white Puddings; when Greets are mixed with Cream, Eggs, Crums of Bread, Suet, Currants, and wholesome Spices stuft in Guts. Of both which Sorts many thousands are sold in Links at Market in a Year, and accommodates poor People with a Dinner at a cheap Rate; and is a Repast for the Rich, when these white Gut Puddings have Marrow mixed instead of Suet. Again, if you roast a Goose, and stop her Belly with whole Greets beaten together with Eggs, and afterwards mixt with the Gravey, there Ecnnot a more pleasant Sauce. Nay, if a Man be at Sea in a long Vo yge, he cannot eat a wholesomer and pleasanter Meal than these whole Greets boiled in Water till they burst, and then mixt with Butter, and so eaten with Spoons, which although formerly called Loblolly (now Burgoo) yet there is not any Meat, how insignificant soever the Name may be, that is more toothsome or wholesome; besides which, it will in a great Measure supply the Use of Rice. In short, the right Management of Oatmeal ought to be one of the chiefest Parts of our Housewife's Study and Care, for indeed no Family can be well thriftily maintained where this is either scanty or wanting, because both Poor and Rich generally Boil it with Meat, and make that Broth we call orridge, and the Poor throughout the Kingdom seldom boil one without the other; for it is to us as Rice is to the Indian, Sago to the Chinese, and Vermicelli to the Inhabitants of the Mediterranean Sea Coast, and is a Common Food for the Sick. The whole Kernels of Oats, called Grotes (says Mr. Houghton) with Milk, Butter, Spice, and Pennyroyal, make Oatmeal Puddings; but some put toss them Suet, Raisins, &c. With the Flower of Oatmeal, Water, and Yeast, are made Oatcakes, which are baked on a Stone, and at London are toasted, slit, butter'd, and eaten as Rarities: With Oatmeal, says he, is made Flummery, with Oatmeal is made Caudle for lying-in Women. In the mountainous Parts of Wales, and elsewhere, most of the Bread the ordinary People eat are oatcakes made in divers Forms, and they thrive well and live long with them. With malted Oats is made pale-colour’d small pleasant Ale, which pleases our Gentry much. I have heard, (continues Mr. Houghton) that the Scots use Oats in a great Degree in their Wars; with a Bag of Oatmeal and a Kettle they’ll sustain themselves a great while, and indeed it is a fit Corn for their Country, for that Oats may be sown and mow'd while the Sun is hot, when harder Corn requires a longer Time. Oats are not only the best Food for Horses, but will also feed Poultry, and make them lay good Store of Eggs. An Ox (says Mr. Markham) has been fed with them till he was sold for thirty Pounds, and Sheep, Goats, and Swine, to great Profit; the last in particular, he says, will fatter apace, if ground Oats are given them with Whey or Butter-milk: But then, as he observes, their Fat should be hardened with the Feed of some Pease besides; and in Case the Swine should be seized with Sickness, some Raddle, or what we call Red-Oker, should be mix'd now and then with their Meat. He also commends ground Oats thus served for sick Dogs and Poultry, and truly almost for every live Creature, thinking the same as useful as Salt.
Burgoo, its cheap Use in a poor Man’s Family.
One of my Day Labourers Wives, having four Children, is often necessitated to find out the cheapest and best Ways to make the daily Shilling go to the farthest. To this Purpose she often feeds them with Burgoo, by stirring some Water and a little Salt into a Quart of ground Oatmeal, that it boils about half an Hour. The longer it boils the thicker it comes; when she takes it up, she puts a little Bit of Butter amongst it, and eats it. This saves Bread and Milk, and is reckoned to go as far as a Pottle of Flower, as it is of a more satiating Nature, for this Quantity will give a hearty wholesome Dinner to a Man, his Wife and four Children, who eat it with a pleasing Appetite.
The Country Housewife's Family Companion (1750), by William Ellis