Friday, May 17, 2013


Gruel, made famous by Oliver Twist asking for more of it in Charles Dickens’ novel, is a type of porridge or hot cereal. Gruel has historically not been known for its flavor but rather as a rather bland staple often used as sustenance during difficult times.

The porridge can be made of rye, corn, wheat, rice, millet, barley, oats, or other grains which are boiled either in milk or water. Occasionally, when there are no other ingredients available, gruel is made of chestnuts or acorns.

Especially popular with peasants because of its inexpensive ingredients, gruel can be thick, like oatmeal, or extremely watery. Some gruel is eaten with a spoon with other types are drunk as a beverage. Most cultures have at least one type of gruel that is common, whether it be Chinese rice porridge, Irish oatmeal, or Mexican atole. Other ingredients can be added to flavor gruel, like vegetables, fruits, sweeteners, or meat.

Authentic recipe for gruel

16 oz oatmeal

8 pints water
Salt or treacle (optional depending on mood of workhouse master or guardians)

Boil - Leave in warm place overnight!
Serves six

Historic note:
This recipe was used at Aberystwyth Workhouse in 1884
To Make Water-Gruel:

You must take a pint of water and a large spoonful of oatmeal; then stir it together and let it boil up three or four times, stirring it often; do not let it boil over; then strain it through a sieve, salt it to your palate, put in a good piece of fresh butter, brew it with a spoon until the butter is all melted, then it will be fine and smooth, and very good: some love a little pepper in it.
~The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1796~

Recipe for Oatmeal Gruel:

1/3 cup rolled oats
1 pint water
1 pint or more hot milk
1¼ teaspoons salt

Add the salt to the water, and bring to a boil in the inner cup of a double boiler. Stir in the rolled oats. Boil over the fire two or three minutes, then set the inner cup in the outer cup of the double boiler which contains boiling water, and continue the cooking for three hours or longer. Then rub the oatmeal through a strainer. Add hot milk to make of the proper consistency for gruel. Barley gruel, cornmeal gruel, or rice gruel may be made by the same recipe, using one-third cup pearl barley, one-fourth cup cornmeal, or one-fourth cup rice, instead of the rolled oats. And in making cornmeal or rice gruel one hour's cooking of the cereal is sufficient.

It may be necessary to cook the barley four or five hours. It may sometimes be desirable to make the gruel entirely of water.