North Staffordshire Oatcakes
Something of a culinary curiosity, North Staffordshire Oatcakes (as opposed to Scottish Oatcakes), are almost unknown of
outside a triangle encompassing Shrewsbury, Tamworth & Buxton.
At the centre of this triangle is the heart of the Oatcake 'industry' (more of a trade), Stoke on Trent and it's environs, where
a very high proportion of the locals consume thousands of the delicacy every week - mainly as an accompaniment to
Sunday breakfast, and frequently on any day of the week.
To the uninitiated, they appear a most unappetising dish - a rubbery brown disc of a size similar to a pancake.
Once sampled and the taste acquired, however, they have been compared to a food fit for the gods, and visitors
to the locality who have undergone the initiation frequently plead with friends from Staffordshire to bring a dozen
or so with them if they are making an appropriate visit.
By default, they are a replacement for bread, and may be eaten hot, cold or fried, and may be filled (rolled) with
savoury items such as bacon, cheese, sausages & eggs, or more uncommonly spread with butter & jam or syrup, much
like the bread counterpart.
Common concensus claims that the oatcake originated as a result of some of the North Staffordshire Regiment soldiers
stationed in India in the early 1900s acquiring a liking for chappatis.
Upon their return home, they imposed upon their mothers & wives the task of re-creating their favourite staple, and in
the absence of chappati flour, the Oatcake emerged in various related recipes, bearing some resemblance to the chappati in appearance
and method of preparation.
It soon became a local favourite, and thence an established product. From being made at home, it developed to a point
I recall), oatcake 'bakeries' were to be found on every other street corner.
Our own grandmother - no doubt with the encouragement of grandfather (an ex-N.S. regiment soldier), produced oatcakes
for local consumption, where they were delivered by our father to the neighbours.
As of early 2010, I must now acknowlege a correction - identified in a recent book
- The STAFFORDSHIRE OATCAKE a history, recently published by Pam Sambook, and available through Amazon and elsewhere -
that oatcakes per se have a much older & wider-ranging history than I had hereto
imagined. Nevertheless, I am firmly of the opinion that the
North Staffs Regiment's time in India at the turn of the 20th Century is greatly responsible for the consolidation and
establishment of this local tradition. Without them, I fear that the oatcake in all
its English forms would have been relegated to the past.
Odd that the other variants haven't managed to maintain a commercial (or even a domestic) presence.
Currently, they are undergoing a local resurgence, and many oatcake bakeries have been established in and around the locality
to supply - in addition to the regular provision of a 6 or 12 pack - the perfect take-away food, where many folk queue at lunch (and
breakfast) times for what is a very economical alternative to the ubiquitous kebab or Big Mac.
It is so far generally unknown that most of the large supermarket chains now
stock them throughout the UK - this supply being through NORTH STAFFS OATCAKE BAKERS LIMITED, of Chesterton, Newcastle.
Oatcakes are made from a simple batter of flour, oatmeal, yeast (or other common raising agents), sugar, salt & a milk/water mix, and are normally
baked (cooked) on a baxton (literally a baking stone) - a plate of steel or iron heated from below by gas burners.
As with bread, the basic ingredients are much the same between individual bakers, but more tolerant to proportional variation in the ingredients. They would
have originally been made with unrefined flour & oatmeal, but now a blend of white flour and wholemeal
flour or 'Hovis' flour is utilised.
Although oatcakes freeze very well, they do not lend themselves to travel, and are best consumed within two or three
days of baking lest they develop mould.
This has led to many pleas for "The Recipe" from North Staffordshire ex-patriates around the country and indeed from
around the world.
An absolutely acceptable home version is
incredibly easy to make, and a simple recipe & instructions are
The oatcakes in the photograph above were made by me today to the recipe below, and prompted the writing of this article.
Follow this exactly, and you will have
something that is undeniably a delicious product. Thereafter, you
can modify the recipe to create your own personal version, secure in
the knowledge that you have made and can recreate that first
Some people use flour to oatmeal at a ratio of 2:1. This obviously gives a different texture - feel free
115 gms Wholemeal
30 gms Milk Powder
gms Dried Yeast (don't use out-of-date yeast)
1000 ml Warm water
is not available, blitz same weight of rolled (porridge) oats for a
(There is no technical difference between oatmeal
& rolled oats)
Rolled oats are half the price of oatmeal!
No need to be fussy about the flour
ratios - use all plain if wholemeal not handy - you probably
won't notice any
they would have been made using unrefined flour, so any blend will be near
but you do need the white flour for the gluten content)
If milk powder is not available, use water & milk
at a ratio of about 60:40 in place of the 600ml of cold water
Mix all dry ingredients
Mix 600ml cold water (or milk and cold water) with 400ml boiling
Add water to dry
Whisk until smooth
Cover and stand for about an hour
in a warm place
Adjust consistency if necessary by gently mixing
in a little more warm water
Ladle sufficient to cover a very hot 9"
lightly oiled or non-stick frying pan
Cook for couple of minutes until
'dry' on top
Turn and cook for similar time
Turn out on to
rack until warm
Turn again until cool
Stack and cover with clean teacloth
or place in plastic bags when cold
Eat within two or three days,
or freeze for later consumption
One final caveat. Cooking
with gas gives a better and more controllable result, due to
the ability to apply higher temperatures.
I have found that it
is difficult to obtain a consistently adequate heat to the pan with
an electric hob.
Ideally, of course, you should use an
iron baxton on a gas flame.
Late news! - I've just 'discovered' the Tefal pancake 'hot-spot' pan -
this does a creditable job even using the electric hob,
albeit giving a larger than average oatcake at 10" diameter.