Bruegel’s Harvest Meal: Buttermilk Porridge

Worn out from their morning’s work in the wheat fields, the group of peasants in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters (1565) relax under a young tree and enjoy a meal of bread, cheese and porridge. Some peasants continue to work, tirelessly threshing a golden field of wheat that stretches far into the distance. They remind those who eat of the labor required to produce the hearty loaves of bread and creamy bowls of porridge enjoyed under the tree.

Bruegel Harvesters Sour Milk Porridge
The Harvesters, 1565

Bruegel was a master in his painter’s guild, but contemporaries called him “Pieter the Peasant” as he liked to dress in peasant’s garb and attend peasant weddings and celebrations. His paintings then depict a world of lived experience. The meal enjoyed by the peasants, amid tall sheaves of wheat on a warm summer’s day, was likely savored by Bruegel as well.

The peasants in The Harvesters are feasting on a sour milk pap–a common meal in the sixteenth century. Should you wish to enjoy a similar dish, here’s a traditional recipe for a Dutch buttermilk porridge.

Buttermilk Porridge

4 1/2 cups (1 liter) buttermilk
3 ounces (60 grams) flour
molasses or stroop (syrup)

Pour the flour into a bowl and add a pinch of salt. Pour in half the buttermilk and mix into a smooth paste. Boil the remaining buttermilk over medium heat and add the flour paste gradually, stirring constantly. Serve with stroop (a fruit syrup is particularly good) or molasses.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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