My Mother Made Me Eat Gruel
     When I Was A Child

{Posted   24 January 2013}

  Yes, it is very true ~ My mother made me eat gruel when I was a child! And I liked it.

  The word gruel conjures up images of nasty, maybe even maggot filled, gooey and wretched flavored food. It makes you think of horrid food that would only be eaten by the most depraved and starving of human beings ~ perhaps even scorned by wild dogs.

  But the word gruel was simply the name given to oatmeal, or whole oats, boiled in either water or milk. It tended to be more wet than solid, and was very similar in taste to a thicker version that was called porridge. Gruel was eaten as early as the Classical Period of the Greek and Roman Empires, where it was the staple of most meals. It was simple to prepare and bland enough to be liked by most people. The common people of the Classical, and on through the later Medieval and Renaissance periods, ate gruel during their meals much like later generations ate potatoes or rice.

  Likewise, in the Americas, a type of gruel was prepared from ground maize or corn into a food called atole, into which was also added chilis. The atole is normally made into a drink, sometimes flavored with chocolate; but it also was the basis, being thickened and heated, of the foodstuff that would develop into the now-common tortillas.

  Charles Dickens, through the images evoked in his book, Oliver Twist, contributed the most to giving gruel the bad name it carries today. The stinginess of the owner of the workhouse in which the young Oliver spent his miserable early years was illustrated by the small quantity of oatmeal and great amount of water that made up the gruel upon which the orphans had to subsist.

  But gruel can be actually quite enjoyable. When I was a child, my mother used to make me a dish of warm Maypo, over which was sprinkled two teaspoons of sugar and then doused with milk. I still eat it from time to time, because I have always liked the subtle maple flavoring. And even if you don't like maple flavoring, you can get plain oatmeal in the form of Quaker or Mother's Oats. Gruel is even packaged, single serving size, with dehydrated bits of fruit (peaches, blueberries, bananas or strawberries) under the name of "Instant" Oatmeal. Nowhere on the box will you find the word gruel, but there's no denying it ~ it's gruel.