For the Stoke City F.C. fanzine, see The Oatcake (Fanzine).

Template:Use Scottish English

An oatcake is a type of flatbread, similar to a cracker, made from oatmeal, and sometimes flour as well. Oatcakes are cooked on a griddle (girdle in Scotland)[1][2] or baked in an oven. Oatcake variations exist based upon different preparations in various regions and countries.

Scottish oatcakes

In Scotland, oatcakes are made on a girdle or by baking rounds of oatmeal on a tray. If the rounds are large, they are sliced into farls before baking. Oats are one of the few grains which grow well in the north of Scotland and were, until the 20th century, the staple grain used.

Scottish soldiers in the 14th century carried a metal plate and a sack of oatmeal. According to contemporary accounts, one would heat the plate over fire, moisten a bit of oatmeal and make a cake to "comfort his stomach. Hence it is no marvel that the Scots should be able to make longer marches than other men."[3][4]

Samuel Johnson referred, disparagingly, to this staple diet in his dictionary definition for oats:

A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Lord Elibank was said by Sir Walter Scott to have retorted

Yes, and where else will you see such horses and such men?[5]

The texture may vary from rough to fine depending on how the oats are ground. Oatcakes may be slightly chewy or hard depending the water content and how long they are cooked. Oatcakes were traditionally eaten with every meal as a major source of carbohydrate in the diet. From the 19th century onwards they were commonly served to accompany soups, meat and fish dishes. Today they are sometimes eaten as an alternative to bread or toast at breakfast.[6][7]

Nowadays, many brands of oatcakes are commercially available, such as Nairns, Paterson's, and Walkers. Apart from those larger commercial manufacturers of oatcakes, there are many local bakers providing variations on the basic recipe.

Similar oatcakes are produced in Ireland, in a shared tradition with the Scots. Ditty's is a brand of Irish oatcake.

Queen Elizabeth II typically has Scottish oatcakes for breakfast[8] and Walkers Oatcakes carry a Royal Warrant.[9] British Prime Minister David Cameron named Scottish oatcakes as his favourite cake.[10]

North Staffordshire and Derbyshire oatcakes

A North Staffordshire oatcake is a type of pancake made from oatmeal, flour and yeast. It is cooked on a griddle or 'baxton'. The oatcake is a local speciality in the North Staffordshire area of England. They are normally referred to as Staffordshire oatcakes or possibly Potteries oatcakes by non-locals, because they were made in this area. In and around Staffordshire and Cheshire they are often simply known as oatcakes.

Derbyshire oatcakes are similar to Staffordshire oatcakes, but while following a similar (or even the same) recipe are generally larger in diameter, and thicker. For example the same recipe will make four Derbyshire or twelve Staffordshire style oatcakes.[11]

It was once common throughout the Potteries for oatcakes to be sold directly from the window of a house to customers on the street. The last producer in this style closed on 25 March 2012; however, there are many small commercial premises who sell oatcakes, either ready to eat, with a filling, or in batches of half a dozen / dozen for the customer to take home. Larger commercial enterprises exist that sell oatcakes to supermarkets and other large distribution chains.

Oatcakes can be a form of fast food. Catering outlets in the area usually offer oatcakes with fillings such as cheese, tomato, onion, bacon, sausage, and egg. They can also be eaten with sweet fillings such as golden syrup, jam or banana, but this is less common and frowned upon by traditionalists. They are traditionally re-heated by steaming between two plates over a saucepan of water or nowadays by microwave, though some may prefer frying in butter or grilling.

An Oatcake Day event was held on Sunday, 8 August 2010.[12][13]

Lancashire and Yorkshire oatcakes

A Lancashire oatcake bears a passing resemblance to a Derbyshire oatcake, but is made without wheat flour or milk, and shaped as an approximate 11-by-6-inch (28 cm × 15 cm) oval, smooth on one side and rough on the other, and traditionally cooked on a bakestone. It may be eaten moist, rolled up like a pancake with a filling, or dried hung over a rack until a crisp cracker. The dried version served with a beef and cowheel stew is known as "stew and hard".[14] Once common throughout Lancashire, it is now rarely found.

In West Yorkshire and Craven the thin yeasted oatcake incorporated ca. 20% buttermilk but no sugar. In the 19th century tastes moved from yeast towards Sodium bicarbonate.[15][16]

Oatcake in these areas was a staple of the diet up to ca. 1910[17] Up to the 18th century Oatcakes were often called havercakes, from hafr the Old Germanic word for oats,[18] but that name only continued to be used in the North Riding of Yorkshire and Teesside for a different kind that is thick with no yeast.[17] The word is perpetuated in the nickname The Havercake Lads for the 33rd Regiment of Foot and also in the term Haversack.

Cooking equipment

In Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire the griddle was called a bakstone. Originally a bakstone was a portable flat oval flaggy sandstone ca.1.5-inch (3.8 cm) thick, set on an open fire. In the 19th century these became replaced with a cast iron plate with a hooped handle, yet its name remained unchanged. In large houses they were built-in adjacent the chimney, with a firebox under an iron plate that was ca.3-foot (91 cm) by 1.5-foot (46 cm), or in larger houses a pair of 2-foot (61 cm) square plates.[17]

In the 18th century the batter was mixed in a small wooden bucket which was not cleaned, so that the particles on the sides acted as a fermenting agent for the next baking. In the 19th century they switched to baker's yeast and porcelain containers or enamel pails.

The size of the ladle varied relative to the current cost of oatmeal; for over decades oatcakes were by tradition one penny each,[19] or 18 for a shilling.

Before ca 1860 the method was called thrown oatcakes or riddlebread. The baker sifted oatmeal on the riddleboard, poured on a ladleful of batter then, by a circular horizontal movement, spread and levelled the batter. It was then slid onto a piece of linen covering the spittle board, a board with a handle. The cake was thereby thrown (flipped) on to the bakstone and then the linen taken up.[17]

Baking racks were contrived by turning a chair on its side and covering the legs with a white cloth.[20]

Oatcakes made for drying were left until crisp on a fixture called the bread flake. Flake pronounced fleeak is from the Old Norse fleki meaning a hurdle.[21] Flakes in Wharfedale had wooden laths e.g., one at Ling House measured 10.5-foot (3.2 m) by 4.5-foot (1.4 m) with 23 cross bars. Those in upper Ribblesdale had strings, over two of which each cake was laid.[17] In some areas the rack was called a bread creel[19]

Canadian oatcakes

Scottish immigrants to the New World brought the recipe for this sustaining food to Canada. One such journey was HMS Elizabeth, which brought immigrants to Prince Edward Island in 1775. Caught in a storm just off the coast of the island, the settlers and crew all survived and made it to the island in life boats, where they waited for three days for the storm to die down. When they returned to their ship to retrieve their possessions and provisions, they discovered that several barrels of oats were among the few foodstuffs that remained. The oats were full of sand and salt water, but that didn't stop them from breaking out the frying pans and cooking oatcakes as their first meal in days. One settler wrote in his journal, "This I thought was the Sweetest morsel I ever Ate in my life though the Outside was burnt black and the middle was not half done".[22]

Oatcakes in Canada gradually moved from being a mainstay of the diet, to being a part of afternoon tea. Sweet and savoury versions were developed, to be served with jam or cheese respectively.

See also


  • Sinclair, Molly. Scottish Heritage Cookbook. Heritage Cookbooks. Mission San Jose, California: 1990.

External links

  • Complete listing of North Staffs Oatcake Shops
  • Staffordshire oatcakes information
  • Walkers Shortbread oatcakes information
  • Nairns Oatcakes Serving Guide
  • A local family take on the history of North Staffordshire Oatcakes, with easy recipes
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