[Sca-cooks] Riddle was oatcakes

Johnna Holloway johnnae at mac.com
Thu Apr 16 18:24:03 PDT 2009

Riddle goes far back as a term with quotations like these:

*/a/1100* /Gerefa/ in /Anglia/ IX. 264 Sædleap, hriddel, her~syfe.

*/c/1340* /Nominale/ (Skeat) 531 /Sak, cryuere, et sace/, sak, ridelle, 
and heresyue.

/Amos/ ix. 9 As whete is smyten in a rydil.

*/c/1440* /Promp. Parv./ 433/1 Rydyl, of corn clensynge,../cribrum/.

*1495* /Trevisa's Barth. De P.R./ XVII. cxxxv. 691 Hulkes falleth of 
whan corne is clensyd wyth a syfue or wyth a Ryddyll.

/Pliny/ XVI. xi. I. 464 The same are shred and minced so small, as they 
may passe through a sieve or a riddle.

A search through EEBO-TCP turned up:

Riddeled, o. plaited, wrinkled.
Riddle-cakes, La. thick sour-cakes.
Riddle an oblong sieve (to separate the seed from the Corn.)

Coles, Elisha, 1640?-1680, An English dictionary 1677

and this handy 17th century paragraph that explains all:

A Bannock, An Oat-cake kneaded with water only and baked in the Embers. 
In Lancashire, and other parts of the North, they make several sorts of 
Oaten bread, which they call by several names: as 1. Tharcakes, the same 
with Bannocks, viz. Cakes made of Oat-meal as it comes from the mill and 
fair water, without Yeast or leaven, and so baked. 2. Clap-bread: Thin 
hard Oat-cakes. 3. Kitchiness-bread: Thin soft Oat-cakes made of thin 
batter. 4. Riddle-cakes: thick Sour-cakes, from which differs little 
that which they call Hand-hoven Bread, having but little leaven, and 
being kneaded stiffer. 5. Jannock, Oaten bread made up in loaves.

Ray, John. A collection of English vvords, 1674

There's a recipe in Prehistoric cookery: recipes & history by Jane M. 

YORKSHIRE *RIDDLE BREAD* Mix a quantity of pinhead oatmeal with water to 
make a
thick porridge. Leave overnight in a warm room. Next day add salt to 
taste and place
spoonfuls on to a hot bakestone or griddle. As the bread cooks, it 
bubbles up, giving
the characteristic appearance. Brown the cakes on one side only. page 40.

Hope this helps


Earlier it was written:
> Interesting word.  A riddle is a coarse sieve used to seperate grain 
> from chaff.  The two common forms of riddle appear to be a plate with 
> holes drilled in it or a wooden rim strung with a coarse wire mesh.  
> From the usage, a riddle cake appears to be an oatcake made from 
> coarse grain rather than from cut or milled oats.  And yes it is the 
> source of the term, "riddle with bullets," from an earlier term, "to 
> make a riddle of."
> Bear 
There's a pretty detailed article on oatcakes somewhere in an early 
issue of Petits Propos Culinaires, discussing the difference between 
bannocks, havercakes, scones/sgians and riddlecakes. snipped
But yes, I believe riddlecakes is a legitimate term, and not the result 
of dropping an initial "g", at least not an error on my part or yours, 


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