In the heart of the Scottish highlands, not too far from the standing stones at Inverness where Claire Randall of the Outlander series took her first trip through time, is the village of Carribridge - Home of the Packhorse Bridge, the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands. On a sunny, autumn Saturday morning of October 4th, 2018, it was anything but quiet for this Scottish village.
Citizens of different kingdoms stood patiently on the side of Main Street. They fancied to get a glimpse of their heroes. The clock turned 9:45AM and the annual ritual sent the village into an uproar. Quilt-attired men geared with drums and bagpipes marched down the main road. The crowd cheered. They proudly waved their banners to welcome the thirty rivalries from around the world. No, these contenders were not immortals warlords.
No, they were not armed with sharpened swords and mail armors. They were chefs and food enthusiasts brandishing nothing more than well seasoned cookware, sharpened chef knives, and their most trusted spurtle. That morning, thirty of us from different parts of the world marched into the townhall of Carribridge to compete in the 25th Annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship.
I had the great privilege to represented the United States as one of the thirty contestants in the 2018 Golden Spurtle Championship. What took place was a fun-filled day loaded with melodic Scottish music, potent malts and amiable crowds passionate for porridge. Though I found myself honored and enthralled to be a part of the Golden Spurtle Championship, this journal is not about the competition. It is about my discovery of an ancient recipe that I stumbled upon at Ian’s house. The recipe ultimately sparked my love for porridge. When Ian and I met almost two decades ago, we bonded immediately. We have the same ethnicity, have a great sense of humor, devote our lives to our Lord Jesus Christ and have the utmost passion for food. When he broke the news that he was moving to London, I was disheartened. That was eight years ago. When I decided to visit Ian in London, he generously offered, “Aaron, if you don’t mind my tiny flat, you ought to stay with me.” I gratefully took his offer. His comfortable sofa was all I needed. With the money saved, I fancied hoping to different eateries in London.
“Fish and chips...definitely Golden Union Fish Bar….Dishoom for some authentic Indian...Ah...peri peri chicken looks amazing at Nando’s…”, I researched and mapped out our week’s worth of possible eateries in London.
I arrived London on Christmas Eve of 2017 and a major snowstorm followed shortly after.
“This is unusual. We never get storms like this. You must have brought the bad weather with you from New Jersey.”, Ian joked. That evening, many restaurants closed early and the streets were dark before the major accumulation. Ian and I were stranded in his flat. With no TV, Ian had a great suggestion for entertainment.
“Want to see my latest recipe collection?”, Ian asked and I nodded with enthusiasm. He carefully pulled out a large box under the sofa and pushed it right in front of me.
“See for yourself. Just be careful. They are fragile.”, Ian warned.
I gently opened the box, hoping to find some of Gordon Ramesy’s earlier recipe book or maybe re-reading Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat would be lovely. Instead, the box was filled with volumes of dusty, filthy books. I held my breath and fiddled them with my thumb and index finger. They looked like they would shamble in front of my very eyes if I breath too hard. Thankfully they didn’t.
“You spent your life savings on this box of junk?”, I blurted.
Ian’s eyes widened. His nostrils flared. He grabbed my shirt, pulled me toward him and screamed, “They are not junk. They are antiques recipes!” Ian shouted. His voice trembled.
“Ok. Ok.”, I replied. I was truly shocked. I never knew Ian could get temperamental over a box of junk written in the dark ages.
“Read it. Tell me what you think.”, Ian advised.
I randomly grabbed a brown recipe book.
“No! not that one...”, he barked and ordered, “Read the red one.”. ” I grabbed the red book. I dared not provoke Ian any further and risked being thrown into the unplowed streets. Ian relaxed himself, let out a slicked smile, and whispered, “Ooooopen it. Reeeeead it.” I did just that and surprisingly, it was a great read.
I finished the whole book in one sitting, closed it, and questioned, “Where in the world did you buy this book?”
“Where else! Car boot sale at Wimbledon Stadium”, Ian proudly answered.
“You bought Goldilock’s diary at a British flea market?!”, I shouted in disbelief.
To many, Goldilocks was a self-centered, rude girl who cared only about herself; at least that’s what we’ve been told. But little did we know she was the most gentle, kind-hearted, young lady in the village of Golden, where she happily lived with her loving, widowed father, Jack. Even though he wasn’t earning much money as a lumberjack, life was splendid until Jack’s health deteriorated.
The villagers in Golden used to be kind and caring. When Jack lost his wife while giving birth to Goldilocks, the lady villagers took turns nursing Goldilocks. However, the caring community quickly perished when the villagers began to purchase food from the Grub Mass Occult.
The Occult moved into the village of Golden a decade ago, when Goldilocks was still an infant. Nobody bothered to ask the Occult where they were from. Nobody cared. Why would they? Their food was so inexpensive and so abundant.
“Where in the world could one find fist size strawberries, tomatoes as enormous as a pumpkin, and perfect kerneled corn. Limitless supplies of anything at a fraction of what used to cost”, an villager said.
“Our food doesn’t spoil. They are cheaper than dirt! Literally! Ha ha ha...”, Mr Santo of the Occult would shout daily at the marketplace. He’s the always smiling, charming food vendor for the Occult. The villagers look to him as their guardian angel.
As the Occult made food overly abundant and affordable, many hard working farmers went out of business. The Occult monopolized the village’s food supply.
“I have never seen food sold so cheaply. Our family can now afford to eat juicy golden apples, tomatoes and whole lot of other food that we previously couldn’t afford!”, one lady villager exclaimed.
“My dearest villagers!”, shouted Mr Santo, “Gather around. As a thank you for your support, we now offer fresh meat so affordable that you can eat like Kings!”
“Meat used to be so rare and expensive. We had to preserve them for special occasions. Now, we can lavishly eat fresh meat and produce whenever we want. Hail to the Grub Mass Occult!”, said John the Silversmith, saluting to the Occult.
“The Occult is heavenly. I don’t even know how we could feed a family of ten people without them. Thanks heaven for the Grub Mass Occult!”, another villager testified.
Life’s good for a few years until many villagers began to experience unusual symptoms. Some villagers developed mood swings while other developed painful disorders. The loving community turned sour. Some, like Jack, acquired long term unknown illness. Even the brightest physicians in the village could not cure these strange illness. Certain villagers suspected it might be the food from the Occult but no one dared to challenge them. Such was the environment where Goldilocks grew up.
As Jack’s health deteriorated and with no money to buy even the cheapest Occult food, Goldilocks went to the village center to beg for any scraps she could. Everyone turned her away. Nobody cared. It was that day, the day that she wandered into the forest feeling defeated, the day that she entered into the Bear’s home. After all, she was just desperate.
Everyone knew what happened inside the Bear’s house. But no one knew Goldilocks had dashed out of the Bear’s dwelling with a bowl of porridge - the cold, medium-sized bowl that belonged to Mama Bear. She understood that stealing was wrong but she also knew without any food, her father would surely die. As soon as she returned home, she rushed over to Jack and whispered, “Papa. Papa. I found food.” Jack could barely open his eyes and used his last jolt of strength to acknowledge her with a smile.
The porridge was heavenly, good to the soul and warm to the lips after Goldilocks reheated the bowl over a small fire. She sprinkled their last pinch of salt into the porridge, brought it to Jack, sat him up, and fed him. Jack immediately regained his strength. “Papa! You are all better.”, Goldilocks screamed. They embraced. Goldilocks knew there must be some kind of magical power in the porridge.
The next morning, Goldilocks went to check on her sick father and again, Jack was curled up in bed. The porridge he ate last night while good, could only sustain him through the night. She needed to get more of the magical grain. She ran to the village center, stopping every villager, begging them to tell her where she could find that magical porridge. Nobody paid attention to the poor girl. Even if they cared to, they wouldn’t know how to help her. The Occult didn’t sell anything like the healthy grains that could yield magical porridge. Feeling crushed, Goldilocks sat at the village gate and wept.
“My good child, what’s troubling you?”, a kind voice came from behind. Goldilocks turned around and found an old man, with powder-white hair. His smile was angelic, full of grace. Next to him stood a girl almost the same age as her.
“How do you do? My name is Jane. What’s your name?”, the girl introduced herself with the warmest smile.
“My name is Goldilocks. Are you travelers?”, Goldilocks asked.
“Yes, we are just passing by.” Jane answered.
“My good child, why so sad?”, the Old Man asked.
“My papa…”, Goldilocks said as she held her tears, “he’s dying and I need to find the magical porridge so that I can save him.”, Goldilocks explained everything to the Old Man.
“Walk with us.”, The Old Man said.
“Where are we going?”, Goldilocks wondered.
“To get you some porridge.”, the Old Man said.
“Really?”, Goldilocks shouted in excitement. got on her feet, wiped away her tears and followed them. They walked until they reached a field full of crops.
“Let’s play hide and seek.”, Jane said, grabbing and pulling Goldilocks by the hand. For the first time in a long time, Goldilocks laughed and enjoyed herself with her new friend. When they were exhausted from the running, they dived into the haystack and rested.
“What is this place? It is so beautiful!”, Goldilocks asked.
“This oat field belongs to my Great Grandpa.”, Jane responded.
“Great Grandpa?”, Goldilocks questioned.
“Yes. That man is my Great Grandpa. He is 105.”, explained Jane. Goldilocks was shocked. Men usually died young in her village ever since the arrival of the occult. In her whole life, she had only seen three grandfathers in her Village but never a Great Grandfather.
“Grrr….”, Goldilock’s stomach growled. She peeked over at Jane and saw Jane staring at her
“You must be hungry!”, Jane said. Goldilocks nodded.
“Dong! Dong!”, the sound of what resembled a church bell rang from afar.
“Come!”, Jane shouted.
Goldilock followed Jane to a small shack. The Old Man was stirring vigorously in a boiling pot. “My dear children, the porridge is almost ready.”, said the Old Man. Goldilocks studied his every move: what he put in the pot, the way he stirred with a strange-looking stick and the way he controlled the fire. Pointing to the strange-looking stick, Goldilocks asked, “Is that a magic wand?” The Old Man laughed and said, “Why do you think it is a magic wand?” Goldilocks replied, “It must surely be a magic wand. You are 105 and you are still so healthy and strong.” The Old Man broke out in laughter and said, “No Child. This is a spurtle. It is used to stir the porridge so that the grains won’t stick to the bottom.”
“Then where’s the magic?”, Goldilocks asked.
“The magic comes not from the spurtle but from the goodness of the pure grains. I eat this porridge every morning.” the Old Man explained.
Goldilocks gulped down three large bowls of porridge. She never had anything so good before. Then she remembered her dying father and begged, “May I take a bowl to my papa?” The Old Man replied, “No! I have something better.” He left and returned with a large sack.
“My good child, take this instead.”, the Old Man handed her the bag. It was heavy. It was full of whole grain oats. Tears poured down her face with gratitude and joy. The Old Man also gave her a spurtle and said, “Go home and cook up a bowl of hearty porridge for your papa!” Goldilocks said, “Thank you mister!” He continued, “When you are out of grains, you are welcome to my field.” Goldilocks gave them a farewell hug, ran home and prepared the magical porridge for her father. And everyday for the rest of Jack’s longevity life, he ate nothing but that magical porridge. He lived to see the birth of both his great grandchildren.
Months passed by and Goldilocks grieved over stealing from the Bear’s house. So, one sunny morning, Goldilocks decided to put on her best dress, scooped a large bowl full of good grains into a poach, and headed into the woods. It didn’t take long until she arrived to the Bear’s house. She stood at the front door, took a deep breath and knocked. The door opened to a young boy, a handsome boy similar to her age. His name was Brandon Bear. Unlike what the fable said, Brandon Bear was not a bear but a human. His family just beared the “Bear” surname.
“Mama! That girl is here!” shouted Brandon Bear as he leered at Goldilocks.
“What girl, my dear…”, Brenda Bear, the mother, responded in her motherly voice. She made her way to the door and saw Goldilocks.
“Brody! That girl is here.” shouted Brenda Bear as she leered at Goldilocks.
“What girl?” shouted Brody Bear, the father ad he made his way to the door and saw Goldilocks.
“What do you want, little girl?”, asked Brody Bear. The whole Bear family stood by their tiny door and leered at Goldilocks.
“I…I…I came to ask for forgiveness.” said Goldilocks as she explained everything to the Bear family. They sympathized for her and invited her into the house. “Mr. and Mrs. Bear, I want to make up for my misdeed. I bought you some of the best oat grains.” Goldilocks then glazed over to Brandon Bear and said, “and I am truly sorry about your chair.” Brandon blushed. He had never talked to any girls, let alone a pretty one.
Brenda Bear grabbed Goldilocks, gave her the biggest Bear hug and kiss.
“Oh sweetheart! You ought to stay for lunch.”, Brenda Bear said and then turned to her son, “Brandon, my dear, take Goldilocks to the farm, pick some of the best ingredients and cook us some lunch.”
“Yes ma ma”, Brandon answered and escorted Goldilocks to the Bear farm. Goldilocks was dazzled. She had never seen a farm before. Brandon taught her how to dig up fresh baby bella mushrooms, picked wild herbs, milked the cows, and handpicked fresh eggs. She had so much fun. That afternoon, they made the tastiest porridge together. It was truly magical.
The Bear family grew very fond of Goldilocks. They invited her to work their farm in exchange for fresh produce. Goldilocks also worked for the Old Man, threshing and winnowing the grains during harvest time. With access to good grains and fresh produce, Brandon and Goldilocks experimented with different methods of making porridge and perfected it. They authored a recipe to their good, healthy porridge and named it the “Magical Porridge”.
Goldilocks and Brandon Bear grew up, fell in love, and pledged their life together. They established the Bear Farmer’s market at the village of Golden and sold the healthiest produce and good grains to the villagers. Those villagers who bought their food loved them and their health improved. Healthy food was like natural medicine. Before long, the Grub Mass Occult was expelled by the villagers. Everyone lived happily and healthily ever after.
The clock ticked 20:05. Ian and I were really hungry. We turned to the last page of the book. It was Goldilocks’ “Magical porridge” recipe. We both wanted to make it. The recipe called for fresh, healthy ingredients but unfortunately in Ian’s kitchen, we could only find instant ramen, chicken wings loaded with growth hormones, genetically modified corn, just to name a few. We looked at each other, grabbed a large bin/trash bag, and disposed of everything. We put on our coats, bolted to a nearby Tesco and purchased all the healthy ingredients that the recipe called for. That evening , we made the “Magical Porridge”. The goodness of fresh, healthily grown ingredients are truly magical. We named the porridge “Once Upon a Time a Magical Porridge”.