Posts Tagged ‘Irish Skilly’

DSC_0469 (2)For the past few months I’ve had the family on a bit of a health kick. The plan has been to focus on the usual triad: getting more sleep, taking regular exercise, and carving out time for leisure activities like reading, puzzles, board games, movies, and cooking together. Surprisingly, these simple changes have been difficult to incorporate into our lives but, ever so slowly, we are making progress. Another area I decided to focus on was the family breakfast.

Like most Irish people, we typically start our day with cereal, fruit, yogurt, or a boiled egg and toast. This past autumn, I broadened the options to include homemade muesli, a variety of smoothies, and {my favourite} steel cut oatmeal, known in Ireland as porridge.

Rolled Oats on the left and Steel Cut Oats on the right.

Rolled Oats on the left and Steel Cut Oats on the right.

Until recently I never gave much thought to porridge. I knew it came as rolled, quick-cook and steel-cut/pinhead oats and that the latter is said to be the healthiest option because it is higher in fiber, both insoluble and soluble. I also knew, and I’m not meaning to go too deep here, that scientific research suggests soluble fiber, in particular, lowers cholesterol and may help lower the risk of heart disease for men and women alike. Otherwise, all I’ve known about porridge was that my late father-in-law ate it nearly every morning of his post-career life, giving it near “legendary” status in the McGuire clan…but that’s a story for another day’s telling.

I have since learned porridge is an ancient food made from oat groats. It has been grown in Ireland for thousands of years because the oat, a rain tolerant grain, grows well in our climate. It has been known as Stirabout but I’ve never heard my friends, or even my lovely mother-in-law, call it that nor have I seen it mentioned in modern cookbooks as such. Long ago, if made with water in an almost soup-like consistency, it was known as Skilly or Gruel, and would have been eaten at supper. And, one thing that seems to have remained fairly consistent throughout time is how porridge has, for the most part, been prepared: boiled with water or milk and served with a bit of cream, sugar, honey, seeds, or fruit on top.

There are oat mills still in existence in Ireland and many oatmeal brands. Perhaps the most internationally recognised one is McCann’s Steel Cut Oatmeal, but it is no longer Irish owned. My favourite is Flahavan’s Pinhead, which has been milled by the Flahavan family in Kilmacthomas, Co. Flahavan's OatmealWaterford for more than 200 years. Macroom Oatmeal is another brand. It is less well-known but has, most notably, been served at Ballymaloe House for many years and is for sale at the Ballymaloe Cookery School and on their website. It is has an almost cult-like following so, as soon as possible, I will try it and give you the scoop.

Until then, I wish you and your family all the good health that my little family has enjoyed these past few months. Let me know what you are doing to keep healthy this year. Be well!

Traditional Irish Porridge

Serves 4


1 cup/7oz steel cut (or pinhead) oats

4 cups/2 pints water, milk or half of each, whichever you prefer


1. The night before, bring the water to a rapid boil.

2. Slowly add the oatmeal, mixing all the time, and bring the water back to the boil.

3. Turn off heat, cover and leave to set overnight.

4. Next morning, add more water (or milk), stir and reheat.

5. Top with toasted nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, golden syrup, honey, fruit, cream, milk or whatever you desire.

From Atlantic Monthly Magazine: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/irelands-renowned-oatmeal/19125/

A bit of history about Irish porridge at http://culinarytravels.co.uk/2010/10/22/porridge/

Some history about Flahavan’s Oat Mill at http://culinarytravels.co.uk/2010/10/22/porridge/

About Macroom Oatmeal Mill at http://www.ireland-guide.com/establishment/macroom-oatmeal-mills.10857.html

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