What do orphans eat? Gruel, of course

Who can forget Oliver Twist holding out his bowl and asking for some more.  More gruel.  The staple diet of Victorian orphans.  So, have you ever wondered what exactly constitutes gruel?  Probably not, but I looked into it anyway.  Gruel, as I suspected, is a porridge made of a cereal such as wheat, oat, rye flour or rice or millet boiled up in water or milk..  Oliver Twist was fed on three meals of thin oatmeal gruel daily with the bonus of half a roll on Sundays.
While a properly made gruel can be thick and delicious, the watery version ingested by Oliver hardly constituted an adequate diet.  No wonder the growing orphans were famished, scrawny and subject to every ill including raging infections, killing fevers, typhus and TB.  On the other hand, they were lucky not to be sleeping under bridges and trying to catch rats for sustenance. Charitable institutions of the time, dependent on donations, struggled to provide any kind of regular meals.  So gruel has its honoured place as an alternative to certain starvation.  Please, can we have some more!

Workhouse Gruel Recipe – Serves One

Are you sure the oatmeal is organic?

Mix three small spoonfuls of oatmeal with a little cold water in a pan.
Add a pint of water to the pan.
Toss in a precious pinch of salt.
Boil for 10 minutes.
Serve in a battered tin bowl.
Truthfully declare there is no more.


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