The Spurtle, a Porridge legend with lots of myths surrounding it. Just what is a Spurtle and how do you use it? In this post I set out on a voyage to answer the myriad of questions that I receive about the Spurtle and most importantly, once and for all, answer the burning question – which end do you use!
So what is a Spurtle? Well my loose definition would be;
A wooden stirring stick used for making Porridge.
Dating back to the 15th century the Spurtle started out life as a spatula-like utensil, used for flipping oatcakes on a griddle.
I was once told by a Scottish woman that the Couthie developed from its flat shape into a stick shape as it became used for stirring stews and broths. The Spurtle changed further into the rod shape we know today as it started to be used for making Porridge.
Why use a Spurtle? The key reason for using a Spurtle is to prevent lumps forming during the process of cooking Porridge. Due to its cylindrical shape, the Spurtle allows the oats to be stirred without the dragging effect of the head of a wooden spoon. Not only does this prevent lumps, the Spurtle’s smaller surface area also prevents the Porridge from sticking to it.
Spurtles are made or ‘turned’ from a variety of woods. In the UK beech is favoured whilst in the U.S. cherry wood is used. The Canadian wood turner Derek Andrews makes his Spurtles from Maple as they are free of the large open pores you get in oak or ash, which Derek feels is important for food hygiene.
Spurtles are made in a variety of sizes, both length and width and I have a real range; from small daintily sized Spurtles that I have had custom made, to long Spurtles used for catering sized Porridge cooking.
Traditionally Scottish Spurtles have a thistle end, whereas contemporary Spurtles have a smooth tapered end. However a glance on Etsy shows a wide range of Spurtles now available.
There are a great deal of customs and legends around Porridge which I will save for another blog post. Not surprisingly for something the shape of a magic wand, the Spurtle has myths and legends in its own right. From a making magic Porridge, to connections with ‘that Scottish play’ I’ve heard some tall tales about the Spurtle, though mostly from mischievous Scotsmen! However the most famous of the customs when using a Spurtle is you must always stir clockwise and always with your right hand
‘Least you invoke the devil’
You have been warned! However the key problem most people have with a Spurtle is a little less other-worldly it’s which end do you use?
From national newspaper journalists to a famous food loving BBC broadcaster, when reporting on Porridge they all get it wrong. The correct way to hold a Spurtle is with the thistle or shaped end in your hand and the smooth rounded end placed in the Porridge.