The Spurtle; customs, myths, legends and lump free Porridge


Spurtle 2The 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.

Couthie SpurtleThis kind of Spurtle is called a ‘Couthie Spurtle’ and I use mine for loosening oatcakes from baking trays and for making pancakes but never for Porridge making.

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.

Spurtle 7Why 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.

Spurtle 3Spurtles 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. 

Spurtle 5There 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.
Like so…

Spurtle 4I hope you have enjoyed this potted history of Porridge’s most famous cooking implement the Spurtle. I hope using a Spurtle will help you to make perfect Porridge.

Happy Porridge eating!

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15 Responses to The Spurtle; customs, myths, legends and lump free Porridge

  1. biddy osbun says:

    my daughter is marrying aa boy from glasgow and i want to give spurtles as hostess gifts. i will need about 20. do you have a source? his mother can bring them from glasgow as i imagine they would be expensive to send to usa

  2. Rogayah Yaacob says:

    I know a wood turner in Maine who makes them. You could ask locally, perhaps there is some wood worker in your state that could do ghem for you.

  3. Jean (French for John) Dorval says:

    Porridge Lady,
    Proceeds from all wood turned products that I make go to local charities.
    I have made spurtles on order and I would love to add myths and legends of spurtles to my packaging.
    Would they be available?

  4. Francesca says:

    Bit of a weird question, but how does the thickness of the spurtle effect the outcome of the porridge? At the moment I use a pair of chopsticks to stir my porridge which does a fine enough job for the single serves I make, but I’m considering getting spurtle…honestly, for the sake of it.

    • Porridge Lady _ says:

      I’ve used the handle of a wooden spoon to stir my Porridge before Francesca and I found it hard work so you are dedicated with those chopsticks! 🙂 Short answer is; I don’t know. All I would advise is not to buy a really thick or long spurtle as again these are hard work. In general spurtles tend to be the same size, its the wood that varies.

  5. Donna petterson says:

    What is the best wood to use or what would be the traditional wood. Thank you

    • Porridge Lady _ says:

      Hello Donna its best to use a wood with a closed grain, for hygiene reasons, and best to use a wood local to you. Where in the world are you?

  6. Don rogers says:

    Last week on CBC(Canada) I heard of a spurtle for the first time. As a Kid I was served porridge for many years. It took 1/4 cup of brown sugar (some used molasses) & 1 cup of milk to get a bowl of it down. Mom, now 98, never had a spurtle! Now in my 70’s, while researching my Scottish ancestors( in depth) who arrived in Canada, in the 1760’s, I realized that my Grandmother’s raisin brown bread( as we call it) (that I absolutely love) must be derived from what you would call ‘porridge bread’. Her recipe that I have made a hundred times, must be at least 150 years old. I am amazed that I never made the connection earlier. Forget the spurtle, just make the bread!!

  7. Tim Cebulla says:

    I turn spurtles from native Oregon myrtlewood and sell on Etsy if anyone is interested.
    shop name is Wood I Kid You?

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