It’s August 8th! Happy Staffordshire Oatcake Day! I’ll bet you’ve all been drooling in anticipation of this one, cheese-graters at the ready, haven’t you? No? No. Well, I guess that’s because no-one outside of Staffordshire has heard of this mighty regional delicacy. In truth, few people outside of Staffordshire seem to have heard of Staffordshire, never mind its lovely oatcakes; I say this as someone who has spent the
many years since leaving for university repeating the mantra, ‘It’s between Birmingham and Manchester…have you been to Alton Towers?’ And I can go to the supermarket and buy French sticks, Indian naan breads, Italian focaccias, German rye bread…but can I get me an oatcake south of Tamworth? No, sirree.
I grew up on oatcakes and I miss them. We’re not talking the hard biscuity type of oatcake here but a plate-sized pancake made from oats, flour and yeast that you fill with cheese or bacon, sausage or egg (I’ve never been a fan of adding sweet fillings but it can be done). I’d come home from school, spread one with butter and roll it up. There’s nothing like it, cutting it in half to see an oaty, buttery spiral of loveliness.
Rumour and intrigue abound as to their roots but a common story is that the North Staffordshire Regiment who were stationed in India in the nineteenth century took a liking to chapattis and, on returning home, substituted the locally-abundant oats for chapatti flour, thus giving birth to the humble oatcake. Traditionally cooked on a ‘baxton’ (baking stone, or griddle), oatcakes were sold from the sash windows of homes; they so define Stoke-on-Trent, the epicentre of oatcakedom, that Stoke City call their fanzine ‘The Oatcake’. But, alas, the last oatcake shop where customers queued at the window was forced to close in 2012.
So when I found out that the 8th August is Staffordshire Oatcake Day, I knew I had to DO SOMETHING. Years ago, my Mum had sent me a recipe from a Sunday magazine (I can’t tell which one or when but it has a look of the Observer about it) so I smoothed it out and set to work. Some may say the link to cheese is tenuous but believe me, it is not!
450ml tepid milk
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp quick yeast
225g oatmeal (or you can whizz up porridge oats in a blender until they turn to coarse powder)
100g plain flour
100g plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
Put 200ml of the milk in a bowl with the sugar and yeast and leave until frothy (about 10 minutes). Put the oatmeal, flours and salt in a bowl and add the yeast mixture and the remaining milk, along with 300ml of tepid water. Beat well to make a smooth batter, cover the top of the bowl with clingfilm and leave to stand for an hour in a warm place. The mixture will rise.
Heat some oil in a frying pan or on a griddle. As soon as it starts to smoke, add a ladleful of the batter and tilt the pan around and around so it spreads to make a pancake of about 18-20cm.
Cook for about a minute until the surface bubbles burst and then flip and cook the base until golden (be warned, these oatcakes are not as flippable as a normal pancake so you’ll need to handle them with a bit of care and love). Stack the oatcakes between greaseproof paper layers as you cook them. This is what they should look like, lovely, lovely, lovely:
I made a pile of them and so not only did we eat them all rolled up with cheese, as above; we also had a Staffordshire Fry-up.
Can’t beat it, me duck.
Happy Staffordshire Oatcake Day!