By Rose Prince
Last Updated: 4:17PM GMT 12 Jan 2009
For centuries the Scottish and other northerners were mocked for their oatmeal diet. Same as livestock, said Samuel Johnson, being deliberately provocative. But now everyone knows that white bread sandwiches are the enemy of trouser zips and that oats will not make your tummy bloat like a pony’s.
It would be crazy to suggest which oatcake is the real thing. Lancashire oatcakes were always soft like pancakes; Welsh ones thin, but also soft; and Yorkshire oatcakes bubbly and cooked only on one side. Scotland is famous for the most popular type: the crisp, toasted oatcake made a little rich with lard or butter. All have one thing in common – they are designed to be cooked on a griddle or flat iron pan, going back to a time when not all households had ovens. The Orkney-born historian Florence Marian McNeill says that you can bake the crisp type, but the ingredients in her Recipes from Scotland (Gordon Wright, £7.95) are traditional: combine 125g medium oatmeal with a pinch each of salt and bicarbonate of soda and one teaspoon of lard, dripping or butter, then add enough hot water to bind all together to make a stiff paste.
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. To shape the oatcakes, scatter dry oatmeal on to a board and roll out to a thin round sheet. Work quickly, because the dough will be sticky and you will need to keep flipping it over, dusting with more oatmeal to prevent sticking. Use a plate to cut a round, then transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet. Cut into quarters and bake until crisp and slightly curled at the edge. Eat hot, with butter and cheese, butter and jam or perhaps smoked fish and curd cheese.
Buying the goods
Oatmeal of Alford produced at the Montgarrie mill in Aberdeenshire, from Tesco, Asda and Waitrose or online at oatmealofalford.com. To cook oatcakes the old way, buy an Alan Silverwood Griddle 29cm, £40, from David Mellor (davidmellordesign.com).