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.