What’s better than a Golden Spurtle?

15 March, 2015 What’s better than a Golden Spurtle?

A custom-made, to your specifications, with wood you chose, while you watch it being made, locust spurtle! Of course – it seems obvious now, doesn’t it? Here is the custom-made locust spurtle: 

An actual handmade locust spurtle - made yesterday morning in Highland County by Nathan Jenkins, while I watched!

An actual handmade locust spurtle – made yesterday morning in Highland County by Nathan Jenkins, while I watched!

Here, by contrast, is a Golden Spurtle: 

Golden Spurtle held (and won) by Dr. Izhar Khan of Aberdeen, Scotland

Golden Spurtle held (and won) by Dr. Izhar Khan of Aberdeen, Scotland

In that picture it is being held by Dr. Izhar Khan of Aberdeen, Scotland. Here is a link to the website of the The Golden Spurtle, the World Porridge Making Championship – I am not even kidding – held on the tenth day of the tenth month every year for the past 22 years in the village of Carrbridge in the central Scottish Highland region. Who ever even knew? It’s all just so fascinating. 

If the word “spurtle” is not in your current vocabulary, allow me (by way of wikipedia) to enlighten you. Here is the start of the wikipedia definition: “The spurtle (or “spirtle”) is a Scots kitchen tool, dating from at least the fifteenth century.” On marthastewart.com, their definition has a more breathless tone: “A simple, unassuming kitchen tool, the spurtle is one hot ticket.”

The wikipedia entry elaborates: “It was originally a flat, wooden, spatula-like utensil, used for flipping oatcakes on a hot girdle the Scottish equivalent to a griddle.

Over time, the original implement changed shape and began being used specifically for stirring oatmeal and soups. The rod-like shape is designed for constant stirring which prevents the porridge from congealing and so becoming lumpy and unappealing.[1] It looks like a fat wooden dowel, often with a contoured end to give the user a better grip.

Traditionally, a spurtle is made from Scottish maple trees.[citation needed]

The Annual Golden Spurtle World PorridgeMaking Championship, held in Carrbridge each year, invites porridge-makers from across the globe to compete for the “Golden Spurtle“.”

Evelyn and I eat lots of oatmeal. Which for the purpose of this blog post (and in my life) I will use as a synonym for porridge. If you need or desire more precision, please google to  your heart’s content. But what I’ve read says that all oatmeal is porridge but all porridge is not oatmeal. I am aware that may have added confusion rather than reduced it – sorry!

As an aside – and as a sort-of-segue into my more normal blogging mode – watching my genuine locust spurtle being made gave me more interest in the black  locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia) at the river this morning. More on that in a moment.

We met up again with Nathan Jenkins yesterday at the Highland Maple Festival – the same fellow we met last year. He’d made two beautiful wooden spoons. I’ve eaten my oatmeal with them nearly every day since. When I talked with him Saturday morning (yesterday) I told him I’d eaten oatmeal with one of his wooden spoons that very morning. We started talking about wooden implements. And about making oatmeal. Our conversation turned to spurtles. He’d never heard of them (neither had I) until recently. He was talking with a man from Scotland (of course). The man asked if he knew what a spurtle was. Nathan didn’t know, so the man showed him a picture. And Nathan made one on his spring-pole lathe. And – Saturday morning at the Maple Festival – Nathan said “want me to make one for you?” An offer I could of course not refuse. So he turns to a big pile of wood that looked a lot like my pile of firewood, except it was not all oak. And he pulls out two nice looking pieces of wood and holds them up and says “do you want cherry or locust?” I don’t see cherry too often but there is lots of locust at Pony Pasture. Plus we used to help our friend Doug make fenceposts out of locust at the cabin when we were young. I have more of a connection to locust, so that’s what he used. And that’s what I stirred our oatmeal with for Evie’s and my breakfast this morning.

This post is thus far distressingly picture-free. Allow me to correct that. 2015 marks the eighth consecutive year that some number of my nieces and I have attended the Highland Maple Festival in Highland County, Virginia. This year, two of my five nieces joined me: Phoebe and Wren. Phoebe took this selfie of the three of us on our way up:

Happy carload on the way to the Maple Festival!

Happy carload on the way to the Maple Festival!

The Highland Inn in Monterey is where we normally have breakfast. They were undergoing renovations this year (we’ll be back in 2016!) so we went across the street to High’s. And had superb buckwheat pancakes and sausages and our charming waitress took our picture! Again!:

Happy crew AT the  Maple Festival!

Happy crew AT the Maple Festival!

There’s just so much fun stuff at the Maple Festival – every moment of it is a treat. After we walked around Monterey for a while, we made our way back to Duff’s Sugar House a few miles southwest of town. They boil down sugar water (from the massive sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum)) to make maple syrup the old-fashioned way. This is inside the Sugar House where the boiling is in progress:

Inside Duff's sweet smelling Sugar House, where the maple magic happens

Inside Duff’s sweet-smelling Sugar House, where the maple magic happens

This is outside the sugar house – with an operating antique John Deere tractor: 

Air conditioned tractor cab from back in the old days

Air conditioned tractor cab from back in the old days

Behind the tractor you can see a barn. Inside it were sheep and many lambs. So cute! 

Some sleepy babies!

Some sleepy babies!

I saw this bronze at the edge of the pond there for the first time in 2011. I referred to it then as the Maple Syrup Fairy. Perhaps I should refer to her as the Syrup Siren; her song brings me back every year: 

The Syrup Fairy - or perhaps the Syrup Siren

The Syrup Fairy – or perhaps the Syrup Siren

It’s possible it’s her song that calls me. But my heart says it’s this that I love to see:

I love the maple syrup. But this is what I long to see:

I love the maple syrup. But this is what I long to see:

Oops! It’s been many paragraphs since I wrote “more on that in a moment” regarding locust wood. In this case, locust trees – at Pony Pasture. Here is a pair as I sign off. More next week! All best,

Jay

PS Locust trees this morning at Pony Pasture (no leaves yet; watch this space):

Twin locust trees - the deeply furrowed bark is easy to recognize.

Twin locust trees – the deeply furrowed bark is easy to recognize.

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
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6 Responses to What’s better than a Golden Spurtle?

  1. Jean Yerian says:

    I love the drives around Monterey! My friend Peggy-Ann (Roanoke) and I try to go to Garth Newel, a chamber music wonder just down the road from Monterey in Warm Springs, every fall. We hear two glorious nights of chamber music, have a gourmet dinner afterwards (usually with a musician at each table), stay the night in the beautiful old manor house, and roam the roads of Bath and Highland Counties in the hours between the Friday and Saturday night concerts. If chamber music isn’t your thing, you might want to try Garth Newel’s blues and jazz festival in the summer. FUN!!

    • Thanks for the reply Jean – and I apologize for my habitual long delay! Highland County has invariably been a relaxing place for me to visit. Of course I’ve always been in the company of my excellent nieces, which means it’s automatically going to be fun. But it’s just always been a calm, peaceful place, and I’d love to visit again at any time of the year. Thanks again for the note!

  2. Wren says:

    Cool it was awesome.

    • Hi Wren! Sorry to be so slow in replying! I am so glad you enjoyed the Maple Festival – I have fun every year. And you’ve been to all eight of them – remarkable! I’m looking forward to going again in 2016! Have a great day,

      Jay

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