Praising the Humble Highland Oat Cake
“Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.” ~ Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language
Everyone loves good food, especially at times of celebration. The cuisine of a people are important cultural markers; traditional foodways can convey a sense of continuity, family inheritance, ethnic heritage, history, nostalgia and good memories.
A couple of years ago, I began to curate a collection of cookbooks from Celtic nations for my personal kitchen library. An interesting feature of many of these cookbooks, is that instead of exalting fancy cosmopolitan delicacies of the aristocracy, they have a lot of the simple and hearty foods of hard-working rural folk.
A fave Celtic cookbook:
I am still on a mission to master baking, or at least gain basic competency. Baking always felt more like chemistry than cooking to me. There are so many great baking recipes in these old Celtic cookbooks; Welsh Bara Brith, Cornish Pasties, Irish Barmbrack, Breton Galettes, Orkney Beremeal Bannocks, and Scottish Shortbread, tis sometimes vexing just choosing which treat to try next! This week, I decided to bring my past into the present by trying my hand at Scottish Highland Oatcakes.
When I was a child, my father and I usually took tea together at 4pm. A staple of that ceremony included Walker’s Shortbread or Walker’s Oatcakes (slathered with Dundee Orange Marmalade). That is true nostalgia food for me, part of my ethnic and family heritage. I began my Oatcakes research by leafing through all of my Celtic cookbooks (I currently have circa two dozen), to compare common recipe ingredients and techniques.
Oats in Scotland:
Oats and barley are the two main grains that grow well in Scotland. Beremeal, an ancient barley attributed to Viking settlement, is traditional to the Orkneys. I will get around to ordering some for making beremeal bannocks, but I chose oatcakes for the personal connection and because oats are more readily available here in Kentucky.
You can use different grades of grind on the oats for whatever texture you like. Obviously the finer the grind, the finer/smoother the texture of the oatcakes. I enjoy them all, but for my recipe I chose Hamlyn’s Scottish Oatmeal, which are finer ground oats but not quite as fine as oat flour. It is common in oatcake recipes to toss in a dash of rolled oats for some added texture and crunch.
I am happy to report that my oatcakes turned out delicious! Crispy and full of flavor, hearty and heart-healthy, oatcakes hold up well on their own for nibbling, or slathered with your favorite toppings for noshing. My two favorite ways to enjoy oatcakes are with a nugget of scrumptious cheese, or a schmear of butter and a dollop of unctuous Highland Bard Tea Jellies, and of course Teas!
Click this link for a video from one of my favorite Youtube channels, What’s For Tea?, demonstrating a good basic oatcake recipe. My oatcake mix needed a bit more oats, but otherwise the recipe was spot on. I rolled mine out to about ¼” thickness which was ideal. Allow them to completely cool before eating; they crisp up as they cool down.
I encourage you to give the humble Scottish oatcake a try. They are easy and quick to make, delicious, healthy, and historical.