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Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Bannocks come from the northern parts of Great Britain: Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They are flat, scone-like buns or quick breads that are baked on a griddle and made with barley, oats and sometimes a proportion of rye – whatever grew to harvest. Before bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) was invented, they were also made by saving a proportion of dough from the previous bake, thus creating sourdough bannocks.

A bannock made with rye and barley was called ‘Brown George’. If no oats, barley or rye were available, pea flour was sometimes used. Peas were dried and often served as a substitute for other flours if harvests failed. They were planted around the edges of fields, separately, or on rotation with other crops because pea plants have the ability to improve the soil to benefit future crop yields.

In her 1929 book, The Scots Kitchen, Florence Marian McNeill says that bannocks must be baked in small circles, but nowadays they are often baked in a large round cake and cut into four wedges called farls. You can choose whether you want bannocks or farls. Eat them while they’re still hot; if you let them cool they become tough and tasteless.


  • 225 g (8 oz) barley, or oat flour, chickpea flour or pea flour
  • 55 g (2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 450 ml (16 fl oz) buttermilk
  • oat flour or plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting


Put the barley or flour, plain flour and salt in a bowl and mix well.

Add the bicarbonate of soda to the buttermilk and beat well with a whisk until bubbles form. Pour into the bowl with the flour mixture and mix well.

Pat the dough into a ball and place it on a floured work surface. If the dough remains too wet (this will depend on the age of your flour and the conditions you’re baking in), add a little more flour. Pat the dough out to a circle 1.5 cm ( inch) thick and cut it into four wedges or shape it into small round cakes.

Place a griddle, cast-iron or spun-iron pan on the stove to heat up. Use a pinch of flour or a bit of dough to test the heat of the pan. If the flour burns immediately, it is too hot; if it takes a few minutes to brown, it is perfect. Cook the bannocks for a few minutes on each side until they are light brown. Eat them while they’re still hot.