Thursday, May 19, 2011

Porridge, Gruel, Grits and Lawyers

Porridge is a dish made by boiling rolled, crushed, or steel cut oats (or other cereal meals) in water or milk. It is usually served hot in a bowl or dish. Porridge is usually eaten as a breakfast dish, often with the addition of butter, sugar or milk.
Porridge was commonly used as prison food for inmates in England. Some call porridge "oatmeal." Oatmeal has a long history in Scottish culinary tradition because oats are better suited than wheat to Scotland's short wet growing season.

Gruel is a thinner version of porridge. It is made from some type of cereal (oats, wheat, rye flour or rice) usually boiled in water. It is similar to porridge, but more often drunk than eaten. It has a very thin consistency. Gruel consumption has traditionally been associated with poverty.

Grits consists of coarsely ground corn, usually prepared by adding one part grits to two-to-three parts boiling water and seasoned with salt, sugar or butter. Grits is common in the Southern United States, mainly eaten at breakfast. Grits can also be fried in a pan with vegetable oil, butter, or bacon grease.

Porridge can be found in popular literature. The Grimm Brothers,Wilhelm (1786 – 1859) and Jacob (1785 – 1863), were German linguists and researchers who collected old folk tales and published several collections of fairy tales, called Grimm's Fairy Tales. Jacob Grimm was also a lawyer.

There's a short story called "Sweet Porridge" by the Brothers Grimm:

There was a poor little girl who lived with her mother and they had nothing to eat. The girl went into the forest and met an old woman who gave her a little pot. When the little girl said "Cook, little pot, cook," the pot would cook sweet porridge. The pot stopped cooking porridge when the girl said "Stop, little pot." The girl took the pot home to her mother and now they were free to eat sweet porridge as often as they chose. One time when the girl went out, and her mother said "Cook, little pot, cook." The mom ate until she was satisfied but did not know the words to stop the pot from cooking. The pot kept on cooking until the little pot overflowed and the kitchen and whole house were full. The porridge overflowed into the street and into the other houses. The little girl finally came home and said "Stop, little pot," and the pot stopped cooking porridge, but whoever wished to return to the town had to eat his way back.

Just about everybody probably knows the story of "Goldilocks and The Three Bears."

There was a little girl named Goldilocks who went for a walk in the forest. She came upon a house owned by the Three Bears (Papa, Mama and Baby Bear) and walked right in. On the kitchen table there were three bowls of porridge. Goldilocks was hungry and tasted the porridge from the first bowl, which was too hot. The second bowl was too cold, but the last bowl of porridge was “just right.” She also tested the three chairs (breaking the smallest) and the three beds (falling asleep in Baby Bear’s bed, which was “just right”). The Three Bears came home and started investigating. Goldilocks woke up, saw the Three Bears and screamed "Help!" Goldilocks jumped up, ran out of the house and ran away into the forest. She never returned to the home of the three bears.
These stories are unusual, even for a lawyer-- Were they told to keep one's mind off of hunger? Why were little girls frequently wandering off into the forrest? Were these cereal meals always related to stories of hunger, poverty and subtle danger? Why are the endings so abrupt? What ever became of the little girls?

Yet, more recent popular "literature" continues to deal with these cereals and related themes.

Recall the 1992 movie titled "My Cousin Vinny," in which grits showed up. Vinny Gambini (played by Joe Pesci) was an inexperienced, loudmouth New York lawyer not accustomed to Southern rules and manners, who went to Alabama to defend two young men wrongly accused of murder while on their way back to college--

Vinny Gambini: You tesitfied earlier that you saw the boys go into the store, and you had just begun to cook your breakfast and you were just getting ready to eat when you heard the shot. Witness: That's right. Vinny Gambini: You remember what you had? Witness: Eggs and grits.Vinny Gambini: Eggs and grits. I like grits, too. How do you cook your grits? Do you like them regular, creamy or al dente? Instant grits? Witness: No self respectin' Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits. Vinny Gambini: So, how could it take you 5 minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes? Witness: I don't know, I'm a fast cook I guess. Vinny Gambini: Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than anywhere else on the face of the earth? The laws of physics cease to exist on top of your stove? Were these magic grits? Did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?

Such is the reasonable connection between porridge, gruel, grits, danger, crimes, prison and lawyers.