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Tales of the golden Spurtle


I wake at 5.38am, wondering whether flapjacks would taste good shallow-fried. It was the day after competing in the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship and I was already planning my specialty recipe for next year.

Husband, dog and I traipsed up to the bonny village of Carrbridge for me to cook oats with a bunch of competitors from around the world, in front of a hall full of strangers, because I really, really love porridge.

Oats are a Scottish superfood. So cheap! So local! So healthy! So good! This October was the 30th annual Golden Spurtle competition and thirty cooks from around the world competed to make the best traditional porridge using only three ingredients – oatmeal, water and salt. The oatmeal is old-fashioned: only pinhead, coarse, medium or fine oatmeal is allowed. None of this microwave nonsense either.

There is a specialty element too, where in the half hour heat, competitors also whisk up a creative recipe using oats as the centrepiece. Simply put, the competition comprises of five rounds of six cooks with two gas burners on a cooking station each, in front of a village hall full of people, and some TV cameras. The aim is to cook a traditional porridge and a speciality dish, judged by three chefs. To win the esteemed Golden Spurtle.

I competed for the first time last year and was delighted to be a finalist in the traditional round. For one year I was in the top six porridge makers in the world. Call it beginners luck, as the blend of fine oatmeal with pinhead oats raised a few eyebrows. This year I used the same oat blend, but Himalayan salt and Leith water. This year I didn’t make the final round, however was a runner-up in the Speciality category with my pan-fried flapjacks.

The vibe reminds me of Leith Festival Gala day, volunteer-led and community focussed. However the Golden Spurtle attracts competitors from around the world. An antipodean chef flew in from Sydney and a lovely bohemian lady ventured from remote northern Canada to compete. Every year Sweden send their finest porridge stirrer, and this year the Golden Spurtle was won by a young Londoner representing Pakistan. It is a global affair, jammed into a most picturesque village hall, perched atop a hill amidst the Highlands.

There was much talk about porridge lore: The pot must never be stirred left-handed and never in an anti-clockwise direction, to do so invites the devil in and we certainly don’t want Satan messing with our oats. What kind of spurtle (stirring stick) and speed of stirring, and the amount and providence of added salt are also hot topics.

The winners for the last three years used Maldon sea salt, Himalayan isn’t salty enough, as I’ve discovered. Even the water used can make a difference as wells how long to presoak the oats. In 2022 I used Maldon sea salt and Highland water. Sadly with Leith water and Himalayan salt this year I didn’t rank so highly. Lesson learned for next year…

The specialty element adds excitement, with recipes varying from very fancy porridges to regional specialities with foraged and homegrown elements: pancakes, kedgeree, noodles, pudding, you name it, it’s been made with oats. 

Here’s my Pan-fried Flapjack recipe, adapted for having no oven in a competition setting. Delicious served warm with clotted cream and berry jam, as an afternoon tea.

Makes 12

50g butter, melted

70g soft brown sugar

1 free range organic egg

50g plain flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Dash vanilla essence

100g porridge oats

50g fine oatmeal

1 tbsp golden syrup

100g mix of raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower& pumpkin seeds, mixed nuts

1 generous pinch salt (optional)

Butter for frying

1. Mix butter and soft brown sugar in a bowl, add egg and mix.

2. Plain flour, mixed spice, cinnamon straight into the bowl, add mixed spice and cinnamon and mix. Add dash of vanilla.

3. Now add oats, golden syrup and sunflower seeds and dried cranberries). Mix well together.

4. Melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat and add handful sized balls to the pan.

5. Gently fry on each side, flattening the balls with a spatula. Try 5 minutes on each side.

6. Any batter left will keep for a few days in the fridge

In the competitors WhatsApp group we all wrote three words to describe the experience. Here’s a poetic selection:

‘Marvellously cosmopolitan celebration’

‘(Harder than imagined)’

‘Oatily perfect weekend’

‘Beautiful porridge family’

It’s really is the most fun I’ve ever had competing, and I’ll be back next year. I have been bitten by the Spurtlebug. Third time lucky!? ■

X: @tracygriffen


Tracy at her porridge station, ready/steady/go!

Oats are a Scottish superfood. So cheap! So local! So healthy! So good!



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