[Sca-cooks] oatcakes

Stefan li Rous StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
Mon Apr 6 20:20:51 PDT 2009

On Apr 6, 2009, at 6:51 PM, Kathleen A Roberts wrote:

<<< well, i am afraid i am testdriving the last of my recipes for our
cooking collegium.  the oatcakes have been tempermental.  or my
guinea pig has. 8) >>>

Can you tell us more about these oatcakes, including specifics on the
temperamental behavior? Maybe someone here has some useful experience
working with them. I know Giulielma Penn's recipe from the late 17th
century (which  is pretty close to Froissart's description of oatcake
manufacturing, containing essentially oats and water), but which is
somewhat different from a modern "traditional" oatcake recipe, worked
out rather well the last time I tried it.


Cailte, what recipe are you using for your oatcakes?

I was originally going to ask Adamantius for the two recipes he  
mentions above. But it looks like I actually have more period oatcake  
recipes than I thought I did, including these two, thanks to Johnna  
and others.

These can be found in this Florilegium file:

oakcakes-msg      (20K)  3/26/06    Period oatcakes.

And for those who don't have a big backlog of TI copies sitting  
around, Master Adamantius's article can now be found in the FEASTS  
section of the Florilegium as:
Picnic-Basket-art (26K)  5/21/08    "A Pilgrim's Picnic Basket" by  
                                        Gideanus Adamantius, O.L.

And here is the section about oatcakes,just in case you hadn't read  
this, Cailte. Or anyone else who might be interested.


PS: Adamantius, is that supposed to be "riddlecakes" or did I perhaps  
drop a "g" in multiple places?

3) North English Oatcakes
Havercakes or riddlecakes differ from the sgian oatcake of the  
Highland Scots in that they are made from a soft dough or batter,  
rather than the firm pastry dough of the sgian. Such batters probably  
derive from attempts to preserve grain-pastes or porridges by cooking  
and drying, and the resulting cakes are probably older than the  
sgian. All these cakes are, in fact, prehistoric. Archaeologists have  
found oatcakes in Iron Age peat bog deposits, and havercakes are  
mentioned in Langland's Piers Plowman[6]. The problem is that the  
earliest written recipe I've been able to find falls just outside of  
period, in the family receipt book of Gulielma (Mrs. William) Penn.  
She spent her entire life in Northern England and died in 1694. Some  
of the receipts were recorded by her mother and grandmother, and it  
isn't really clear who is the author of which receipt. The recipe may  
date from as early as the 1640's or so. In addition, such cakes were  
obviously made, evidently substantially unchanged, from the Iron Age  
up until the Second World War.
"(#73) Too make thin oat Cakes It must bee made with oaten meale  
steped all night in pump water, and bake it the next morning pore in  
the batter upon a stove with a brass Ladell"[4]

I used about two cups of steel-cut porridge oats, ground a bit finer  
into medium-fine grits. Modern riddlecake recipes call for pinhead  
oats, which are a bit smaller than porridge oats, but definitely not  
flour, either. To this I added about a quart of water to achieve a  
pourable batter, bearing in mind the batter would thicken as water  
was absorbed. Fairly hard tap water doubled pretty well for pump  
water. While it's possible the mineral content of the water would  
affect the final product, I thought the addition of Burton water  
salts from my brewing supplies would be going a bit too far.

I let the batter prove overnight. Whether this was intended to  
provide natural leavening with airborne yeasts I can't say, since no  
details are provided about covering the bowl. I covered it with a  
plate and left it unrefrigerated. I believe the object of the  
overnight steep is to save time and fuel (Cook while you sleep!).  
Certainly no noticeable leavening or souring occurred.

Modern home recipes for riddlecakes call for portions of batter to be  
baked on a griddle on or near the fire, on one side only. When the  
cakes begin to peel away from the griddle, they are removed and hung  
on a rack before the fire to fully dry and crisp. In the North of  
England they were frequently hung on a clothesline near the hearth.  
In their soggy, flexible form, they're pretty hideous.

I opted for a toasting directly on the rack of a 250° F. oven, which  
took about half an hour to achieve a palatable product. It ended up  
being a bit like matzoh, a bit like Wasa Krispbread, and a bit like a  
commercial oatcake.

THLord Stefan li Rous    Barony of Bryn Gwlad    Kingdom of Ansteorra
    Mark S. Harris           Austin, Texas           
StefanliRous at austin.rr.com
**** See Stefan's Florilegium files at:  http://www.florilegium.org ****

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