For centuries oatcakes were eaten daily in many parts of Britain and Ireland, before wheat bread ceased to be for special occasions only and became commonplace. Different parts of the country had different local variations and the following is based on an old Donegal recipe. Originally they would have been cooked on an iron griddle, but oven-baking produces good results. Unlike baking bread, which demands a very high temperature, oatcakes are cooked very slowly, more a drying process akin to making meringues. Oatcakes are delicious with cheese or buttered with jam.
Put the oatmeal in a large mixing bowl. Put the salt and butter in a measuring jug and add the boiling water. Stir until dissolved, then pour over the oatmeal and mix with a fork to achieve a malleable consistency. It may need a little more water. Cover and leave overnight in a cool place but not in the fridge.
Spoon out on a work surface and press flat as thinly as you can. Using a pastry cutter and working from the edge inwards, cut out circles, transferring these with a palette knife to an ungreased baking tray or trays. Leave to stand for 2 hours in a warm place.
Preheat the oven to 130°C/275°F/ gas 1 and bake the oatcakes for 3 hours. Any leftover can be kept in an airtight tin and reheated when wanted, again at the lowest temperature. If they go soggy from moisture absorption from the air, just return them to a low oven to dry out and recrisp.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.