Well, contrary to what that sassenach Webster 1913 would have you believe, a spurtle is in fact, as any good Scot will tell you, a stick. More specifically, it's a stick you use for one purpose, and one purpose only: stirring porridge.

Yes, porridge or, as many of ye fancy new world types might call it, "oatmeal" played such a strong, central part of life in the auld country that not only do we have the concept of a stirring utensil devised purely for the purposes of stirring that most hearty of breakfasts, but we also have a word for it.

I never said I was proud of my cultural heritage, did I?

Back in the day, before the invention of rolled oats, making porridge was a tedious affair. Starting wi' whole oats, you had to boil them for... oh, at least a fortnight, mebbe two (not like nowadays where your porridge is ready to eat almost as soon as it's warm). And unless it's stirred constantly, you'd end up with lumps in it. Big, muckle dollops.

The actual spurtle itself is about as simple an instrument as can be imagined. Generally made from turned wood, they resemble something somewhere between a polisman's baton and the handle of a wooden spoon, although I've seen some fashioned in the shape of thistles, particularly in all the wee tourist shops along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Why a stick and not just use a wooden spoon? Why have something specifically for the purposes of porridge-making? Well, sticks are pretty cheap. And if you're stirring your porridge for half an hour, you might conceivably want to use your wooden spoons for something else in the meantime.

In one of those shops, I once saw a rack of spurtles claiming to be "magic" in their ability to keep the porridge lump-free. I don't know about magic, exactly, but you still wouldnae catch me stirring' my porridge widdershins. Just in case.

Spur"tle (?), v. t. [Freq. of spurt.]

To spurt or shoot in a scattering manner.

[Obs.]

Drayton.

 

© Webster 1913.

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