The British Oatcake

The British Oatcake

Cracker or biscuit?


Similar to a cracker or biscuit, oatcakes have been documented as existing in Scotland since at least the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, and likely before then.

As an Edinburgh based company, and with our own very tasty Island Bakery Three Seed Organic Oatcakes newly added to our range, we are naturally interested in the history of this mainstay of Scottish baking.

The British Oatcake – a real tradition

They are a fabulously flexible food, ideal for almost any eating occasion from breakfast through lunch, snacks and dinner – no wonder they are so popular.

There are many stories behind the origins of the British oatcake – one being it comes from the Indian chapati or flatbread, when British soldiers who had served in colonial days tried to recreate them back home.

Regional differences

There are also many regional variations of the oatcake in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire – but Scotland seems to be the true home of this culinary staple. The texture may vary from rough to fine depending on how the oats are ground. Oatcakes may be slightly chewy or hard, depending on the water content and for how long they are cooked.

Another  story about oatcakes dates back to the 14th century when Jean le Bel accompanied a French count to England and Scotland, and describes nuns making ‘little pancakes rather like communion wafers’ thought to describe the making of oatcakes.  At this time, Scottish soldiers would carry a sack of oatmeal and a griddle. They would moisten the oats before forming into a cake or patty and cooking over a fire.

Samuel Johnson famously defines oats in his 1755 dictionary as: ‘A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’

The British Oatcake has royal connections

It is also thought that Queen Elizabeth II has Scottish oatcakes for breakfast while former Prime Minister, David Cameron, named Scottish oatcakes as his favourite cake.

There are regional differences in this humble cake and, again, history has stories to tell about each.  For example, Staffordshire oatcakes date back to the 18th century when the oatcake was the staple diet of the potteries folk. It is thought that during the long hard winters, farmers grew oats rather than wheat and their wives would bake them on a bakestone for family and farm workers.

This developed over the next two centuries and while the younger women started working at the potteries, the older women would take over the baking and make more than needed – selling any surplus at markets. The more successful would cook large batches and then sell from their shop front, through their windows.

Hairy Bikers oatcake recipe

In the north and east Midlands an oatcake is a very different creature – more like a dark pancake made of a fermented batter. The Hairy Bikers suggest in their oatcake recipe this is a great base for a cooked breakfast, being softer in texture.

The Hairy Bikers have a famous regional oatcake recipe

Recipes are often closely guarded , which helps retain the many regional differences. Leek and Buxton boast the most substantial of oatcakes, thick with oatmeal – while the towns of Tunstall and Longton claim to have the finest.

Whatever your preference it would seem the oatcake, wherever it comes from, continues to be one of the British favourites when it comes to savoury biscuits.

Would you like to try our new oatcakes? Click the link below to find out more.