These oatcakes were the traditional breakfast for people who worked in the potteries of Stoke-on-Trent and the surrounding area. Unlike Scottish oatcakes, which are biscuits, these oatcakes are floppy like pancakes and vary in thickness from region to region in the North of England. They were eaten while still hot, filled with bacon or any other savoury filling, or dried in front of the fire so they became hard as a crispbread and sometimes even toasted.
Staffordshire oatcakes were bought by the workers early in the morning at a hole-in-the-wall oatcake shop, which was no more than a window in a house from which the oatcakes were baked and sold. The last hole-in-the-wall closed its window in 2012 and with its closure this tradition is sadly lost. In some cafes, B&Bs and pubs in the Peak District and Derbyshire, you can still get oatcakes for breakfast and you will also find them in local shops and bakeries, where you can buy them individually for a few pence each.
Today, a small portion of wheat flour is usually added to the batter of Staffordshire oatcakes. That was not the case in the past, as we learn in Florence White’s book Good Things in England from 1932. Adding wheat flour makes the oatcakes more resilient so they don’t tear so easily after you have filled them.
Need some help choosing the perfect type of oats or oatmeal? Read all about oats.
Mix the flours, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeast to the lukewarm milk and stir briefly and gently to activate it. The yeast will start to foam up in clusters, which means it is ready to use.
Add the yeast mixture and water to the dry ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let the batter rest for 1 hour.
Cook the oatcakes on both sides in butter, lard or oil in a cast-iron pan or heavy-based frying pan (or an old-fashioned griddle if you have one). The easiest way is to pour a soup ladle of the batter into the middle of the pan and then spread it outwards with the back of a tablespoon or a spatula.
I like to cook a batch of oatcakes and freeze them. They are easily revived in a hot pan when thawed an hour or two before you want to serve them. Serve with savouries like bacon, sausages, eggs and sauteed mushrooms, any sweet condiment you like or just plain sugar. These oatcakes are quite filling so you only need to eat one or maybe two, depending on your appetite.
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