Gruel In Pewter

According to the Press Association, Scientists will serve gruel to the public today after recreating the porridge made famous by Oliver Twist. Members of the Royal Society of Chemistry produced the recipe, consisting of water, oats and milk, after consulting historic sources as well as Charles Dickens’ novel. The Victorian workhouse staple, which will be prepared by French chef Fabian in the society’s kitchen, will be ladled into pewter dishes and served to passersby at 11am by the society’s own “Beadle” at the entrance of its London home at Burlington House, Piccadilly. An RSC spokesman said: “Diners asking for more will be rejected.”

Sadly, I read this too late to be able to get to Piccadilly in time for my free pewter pot of gruel. I could console myself, however, that it would not have been a new experience for me. I think I have mentioned elsewhere that I spent a period, earlier in my life, subsisting on a diet of gruel. This was not for reasons of ill-health or a traumatised digestive system or even abject poverty. My flatmate at the time and I undertook the gruel-only diet as an experiment in asceticism, puritanical fanaticism, and self-righteousness. Indeed, as I read the Press Association report it struck me that the RSC recipe seems rather luxurious, adding a slop of milk to the oats and water. No such treats for us!

My grueldom took place many years ago, early in the Thatcher administration, but the lessons I learned then, and the stiffening of my moral fibre, have remained with me. In fact, whenever the opportunity arises, I like to announce that “I lived on a diet of gruel, you know,” to whomsoever is listening. Curiously enough, this is almost invariably met by laughter and ridicule.

11 thoughts on “Gruel In Pewter

  1. As one of the callous listeners who responded with ‘laughter and ridicule’ to Mr Key’s assertion, I feel a need to defend myself. Mr Key has neglected to mention that he ‘lived on a diet of gruel’ for, to the best of my knowledge, three-quarters of a single day. Even without milk, to me this hardly seems like enough fibre – moral or otherwise.

  2. Three-quarters of a single day is a good deal longer than the gruelly dilettantes outside Burlington House today will commit themselves to a self-righteous puritanical diet. I rest my case.

  3. Not so long ago I found myself in an up-market restaraunt where I was served an “Amuse-Bouche” consisting of weakly-flavoured potato-foam. Could this have been one of Dobson’s recipies, or an example of that lamentable fad “molecular gastronomy”?

  4. The description of “gruel” here sounds very much like porridge to me. Is there any recognised factor which distinguishes gruel from oat porridge, or is it just a matter of semantics? Perhaps the runniness or temperature of the substance?

  5. James : It is indeed the “runniness” of gruel that differentiates it from porridge. Gruel is thin, even watery, whereas porridge is a thick oat-rich slop that fills the stomach and sates the pigtape (see “Feeding A Pigtape” for clarification).

  6. Porridge: is made with a milk and water mix (to taste).
    Gruel: water only.
    My grandma told me that so it must be true..
    (I do so miss her Spam fritters..)

  7. What of the serving of Gruel? Granted a pewter bowl is acceptable – at for those metallurgy boffins at the RSC, but what of the spoon?

    I suggest that it should be wooden, barely concave and preferably chipped or split. This will serve to emphasize the runny, fugitive nature of the fluid.

  8. ‘Gruel: water only.’
    I’ve been eating gruel when I thought I was eating porridge!
    You’ve no idea how this makes me feel.
    Mind you, not for every meal.

  9. “You’ve no idea how this makes me feel.”
    Pious and regular no doubt..
    I suspect that gruel should remain unsalted as I’m sure there’s some connection between salt and Satan.

  10. Yes, quite pious, retrospectively. However, I must add that I often add raisins and cinnamon. I’m sure the addition of these absurdly decadent luxuries compromise the spiritual benefits of gruel.

    I think Satan’s allergic to salt in the same way slugs are. One tosses salt over one’s left shoulder in order to get rid of Satan who’s sitting there about to do something diabolical.

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