Grandma’s Oatmeal Gruel

Oatmeal gruel wasn’t really a medicinal thing, so you won’t find it mentioned in the books of most learned physicians but if you look at published household manuals, you find it often. It’s mostly recommended for hydration and nourishment. It was fed to invalids and children. In my tradition, a thick, cooled form of it might be applied to hot rashes or chicken pox, but of course I haven’t worked with chicken pox for years because of vaccination.

William Salmon was a university-trained physician and was unusual in that he wrote at length about what nourishment should be given to a person during illnesses as well as medicines and this is his dietary regimen for someone recovering from various illnesses.

Let his Food be of good Nourishment: an Emulsion of the four greater cold Seeds may be exhibited, a little thickned with white Starch: Ptisan also, and Broths made with White-bread, also rear Eggs, Rice Milk, and Water gruel

Ars chirurgica a compendium of the theory and practice of chirurgery in seven books (1698) p. 996

Water gruel is oatmeal gruel. Over the years I have heard a couple of herbalists cite Salmon, so I am confused how they don’t know about these recommendations?

The grandmother who passed down this receipt in my family was a Ralston whose family emigrated from Renfrewshire, Scotland. You can see that from the School’s Collection Entries below that oatmeal gruel was eaten often in Ireland, as well.

They used boil cabbage and put oatmeal gruel and salt on it. In ‘Tobar” Doobally, Co. Cavan, oatmeal gruel was boiled for the poor. The boiler is still there. If you denied your religion you could get an extra allowance.

Francis Early Co. Leitrim

The difference between a pottage and a gruel is that the solids are strained from a gruel (or at least allowed to settle to the bottom) while your porridge or pottage still has bits in it. Children were often fed oatmeal gruel. Sometimes they weren’t given any “adult food” until they were two or three and it was assured they would be living long enough to warrant feeding them real food. I can’t even imagine that.

They had dinner at twelve o’clock and this consisted of oatmeal gruel and salt eaten with potatoes and for their supper they had oatmeal gruel and salt eaten with porridge.

Michael Sweeney Co Longford

I found one receipt in which they talked about a dish called sousheen, made by cooking turnips, potatoes, onions in a thin oatmeal gruel. I couldn’t find another mention of this dish, but this is the potato soup I grew up eating when the stores from the garden ran low at the end of the winter. This might seem weird until you realize that “thin” oatmeal gruel is not particularly different than what we call oat milk modernly. Here is my grandmother’s receipt. If you want a thinner oatmilk type drink you can just double the water.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

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