THE OAT GRAIN

APPEARANCE - TERRITORY - USAGES - REPRODUCTION - RECEIPTS  - MYTH/LORE

Oats are a basic, hardy, and inexpensive grain which is available throughout Sarvonia, used both as a sustaining food for sentient beings and an excellent source of feed for domesticated animals. Names and Types of Oat Grain are: Oats, Grainoats, Groats, Cut Groats, Crimped Oats, Oatmeal, Seed Oats (Tharian); Oughts (Thergerim), Avens, Avins, A'vensa'atyva (Elvish); Parritch Oats, Porridge Oats (hobbits).

Appearance. A single oat plant stands about two spans to a ped tall, with one narrow stalk supporting a number of alternating broad grassy leaves and a flowering 'head' which contains the oat grains. The entire plant is a soft green or greyish-green colour, shading subtly into bluish tints, giving it the shimmer of Baveras'eye aqua but the strength of herne green.

The Oat Grain

Picture description. A basic, hardy, and inexpensive grain found throughout Sarvonia: Oat. Image by Bard Judith.

The head is distinctive in its florets; drooping, bifurcated 'petals' that are puffy at the top and pointed at the bottom, giving each floret the comical look of a pair of herne-hued pantaloons hung out to dry! Each petal protects the plump oval grain of an oat, changing slowly from green to dusty cream as it ripens.

An entire field of oat plants can deceive the eye into believing it has found an inland lake or bay, shimmering with Grothar's breezes and rippling in waves of aqua colour.  
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Territory. The oat plant can grow and even thrive in poor soils where other grains would stunt and wither – one reason for its great popularity and relatively low cost. They are also tolerant of frost and cold, and not prone to typical grain diseases and ailments such as ergot, wheatsmut, or blackrot. Yet with this hardiness comes no lack of nutrients; rather, the oat contains a great deal of beneficial victualling for both farmer and beast, elven lass or hobbit lad.

From the Temperates to the Brightlands climate zones the oat is commonly grown with relative ease. In warmer or colder zones more care must be taken: see Cultivation, below.  
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Usages. By far the largest and most common use of oats is as a foodstuff. So far, every race known to the Compendium can both eat and gain benefit from the humble oat – it appears to be a universally nourishing substance. Nor is this limited to the sentients of our disc, for many animals can also consume oats, although they must be hulled and preferably crimped flat for the best digestion.

Oats in general must be harvested, cleaned, and roasted lightly, then hulled. At this point they are ready for consumption but may be processed further for different purposes. The crimped oat can be simply boiled into parritch, which itself can be eaten 'as is' or mixed with flavourings ranging from the sweet to the savoury (see Receipts, below) and pressed into service as stuffings and fillings. The oat can be ground to meal and used in baking to enrich wheat and breddflours, to create breads, pastries, muffins, and more. They can be used to stretch ground meats, give a crisp crust to meat patties, and are often used to flesh out (oh, do pardon our parasomania) many types of sausages.

They are a staple of hobbit cuisine, forming the basis for many hearty dishes. The Thergerim have enjoyed oats for a number of centuries now, and 'Oughts', as dwarves have gutteralized the Tharian name, form a steady portion of the barter flow between the Thergerim caverns and the human trading posts. The elves, to whom this grain is known as ' A'vensa'atyva', or more simply 'Avens', use it medicinally (see below) and only ingest it in small quantities.

Oats are believed to have calming properties. They are used, besides the obvious method of consuming them in one form or other, as poultices for headaches and strained muscles, as ingredients in soothing amulets (for teething children, harassed students, anxious young mothers, and the like), and reagents for various spells to work on the mind. Ironically, they appear to have the opposite effect on horses and other animals, being rather a stimulant and source of energy.

They are associated with Jeyriall, being symbols of Her bounty and providence, and are usually depicted in sheaf form, like the other grains of the harvest season. However, we should note that at at the lovely and well-known temple of Jeyriall near Nyermersys, there is a discreet but repeated oat-grain motif forming the trim around the edges of the mosaic floors – the characteristic split-oval shape of the flattened or 'crimped' oat! We may also see oats, as well as wheat and barley, formed into the harvest Jeyriall-poppets that are made from the first (or last in some regions) sheaf cut from a field, and hung up to dry over the coming year. Oats form a good part of the nourishing Newmagrul, or 'New Mother's Porridge', that is often served traditionally to just-delivered mothers at Jeyriallene temples; however, since oats along with other inexpensive crops are make up a good part of the barter goods that are donated to the temples as thanks'offerings, the more skeptical scholar might wonder whether this is a devout courtesy to the goddess or a pragmatic use of a surplus store...
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Reproduction and Cultivation. The whole grain must be planted as soon as the ground can be cultivated in the spring. Oats are cold-hardy but do not appreciate full summer heat, so an early start is important. In Brightlands and Mirageland climate zones, oats are planted in the fall and 'winter over', so that they escape the summer altogether. In colder zones such as the Northern Wilds, farmers sometimes choose to plant two rotations, as oats can survive both frost and even snow.

Harvesting times obviously vary, but most farmers use the precept 'Green to cream, the groats're weaned'; that is to say, when the smallest grains on each head are just turning from their immature green hue to a soft milky colour, the oats are ready to cut. Small plots are cut with sickles, while larger ones are scythed. The cut stalks are gathered into shocks and left to dry in good weather.

The grains must then be removed from the heads by the process of threshing. In more ancient times this was done by allowing livestock to tread over them in a circular pit, lined with rock, known as the 'threshing floor'. For a long time now, though, humans have replaced the livestock, with special buskins of leather that tread out the grain without crushing and dirtying it as in the olden manner, and the much shallower pit is still known as the threshing floor.

Tossing the threshed grain back and forth between large cupped fans of woven yealm reed will 'winnow' it, allowing the husks to blow away while the heavier groats remain in the cups of the winnowing fans.

Last, they must be kilned to help them keep longer; this roasting stops the grain from sprouting and keeps it from mold longer.

At this stage the oats may be bagged and sold, or may go on to further processing: cutting, crimping, grinding, or other terms of the miller's trade. Crimping gives us the typical flattened oval with a central line, of course, while grinding with various sizes and textures of stones gives us our cut groats and oatmeals.

All other things being equal, the oat grain seems to be moister than other grains, and is not as good a keeper, even after kilning. It must be stored in the driest place available, and generally used within several months of harvest and processing. As noted above, however, oats can be planted and harvested at various seasons, so there are usually some available in local markets at any particular time of the year.

While they will grow well on even poor soil, they can be very draining to a plot of soil. Care must be taken to provide a fallow season and then refertilize with well-aged manure after a season of oats have been planted.

Note that even the oat straw is more beneficial than other straws, hays, and dried grasses, being highly absorbent and of a pleasant fragrance. It can be used for pallet stuffing, animal bedding, and so on, but should not be used in thatching under any circumstances.
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Receipts. Among the most common dishes made out of Oat Grain are the following: Groat Gruel, Oatcakes, Hobbit Honey Parritch, Saggis, Oatmeal and Dainberry Cookies.
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Myth/Lore. The expression 'stick to your ribs' (a hobbit saying referring to any hearty and filling food) is believed to have been originally used about oat parritch or porridge, a thick gruel often served as breakfast. Since, as every unfortunate scullery maid knows, the scraps of parritch left in the bowls (or worse, the cooling cauldron) will dry to first a glue-like consistency and then a crusty substance almost as hard as the pottery it clings to, an imaginative child might well envision his breakfast 'sticking' to his insides on the way down!

Oat paste, since we are on the subject of stickiness, is frequently used to mend small objects, fill in holes in plastered walls, given to children to fasten papers together into toys, and so on. The crimped grain is best for this purpose; it may be ground finely into oatmeal, moistened with hot water (or better, milch) and left to soak for an hour or so. When only small amounts of liquid are added to the ground meal, and a good handful of ash-salt included, the resulting thick mass makes a good substitute for clay, and may be used to model simple figures. Busy mothers are apt to say to a bored child who has finished all her chores or is trapped inside on a rainy day, 'Go make some oatpaste!' Even city people now use this saying as a rather rude way of asking a person who has overstayed his welcome to depart, thus: “Have you no home of your own? Go make oatpaste!” (Roughly equivalent to 'shoo', 'begone', 'get lost', and 'feff off'...) Truly, gentlefolk, this should have been mentioned above in Usages, but the expression is so common we could not but include it in this section...

An old tots'song that may still be heard in the more rustic areas of Santharia goes as follows:

“Oats, pease, onns, and beerlay grow,
Oats, pease, onns, and beerlay grow,
Doth thee or me or sages know,
How oats, pease, onns, and beerlay grow?”

Another, a dandling song (a piece chanted or sung while bouncing a child or grandchild either soothingly or wildly on one's knee) from the border of Vardýnn runs so:

“Jump up – little oatling – jump up!
Spring up – little oatling – spring high!
Leap up – little oatling – leap up!
Grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, till you touch the sky!”

The last line should begin very softly and the bounces very gently, with each 'grow!' becoming louder and the bounces, of course, correspondingly more vigorous. On 'sky!' the child is either lifted up swiftly overhead, or actually tossed up, to be caught with squeals of delight.

Hostlers and other horsemen will often say 'He's feeling his oats' or 'She's full of groats' when they wish to express just how frisky or energetic a horse is. This expression has begun to pass into popular parlance, so that now it is used of a youth or maiden who has more than their share of growing-up wildness.
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 Date of last edit 19th Molten Ice 1672 a.S.

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