We have all chuckled at the thought of what a Scotsman does (or doesn't) wear under their kilt. I also often wondered what they carry in their sporrans (the little black leather pouch worn around their waist). Well, it seems that traditional Scottish Highlanders in battle often carried a little sack of oatmeal in these little pouches. They would then mix some of the oatmeal with water and place the mixture on their shields which they used as a plate and cook the two ingredients over the campfire. The final product was known as the "Scottish Oatcake". These oatcakes were also known as the bread of Scotland dating back at least as far as the 14th century. Oats were one of the only grains able to survive and grow in the Scottish climate so it was a staple in the Scots diet and a substantial part of the Scottish culture. The tradition of Scottish oatcakes has remained over the centuries and is a traditional recipe that can still be found in several rural towns and villages in Nova Scotia (especially in Cape Breton and northeastern Nova Scotia areas such as Antigonish and Pictou).
Preserving traditional recipes is a critical part of any culture but these little treats in particular are worth drawing attention to not only because they represent my Scottish culture but they are also one of my favorite treats that I definitely recommend searching for them on your next visit to Nova Scotia. Oatcakes are also very easy to make and I have included the recipe below. They are the perfect accompaniment with tea or coffee and a great "vehicle" for butter (even apple or maple butter homemade in Nova Scotia), fresh cheese, molasses, honey or for an extra protein fix; peanut butter. They are ideal as a breakfast on the go or as a snack any time of day. Oatcakes are not as sweet as a cookie or as salty as a cracker, rather they are the perfect blend of these two most craved entities and in my opinion make for the perfect treat! Although you can find these square snacks in the freshly baked food sections of local bakeries and cafes, you can also find them at some Tim Horton's coffee shops too. The fact that they are at Tim Hortons may seem to take away some of their authenticity but at the same time, they are only found at Timmy's in Nova Scotia so I would like to think of them as being the rich and famous Scottish treat worthy of Tim Horton's bakery shelves - can I justify it that way? Historians may beg to differ. They don't taste quite the same from Tim's, they are a bit sweeter than they should be and yes, I am a self proclaimed "Oatcake Connoisseur!"
Notice how I keep referring to these oatcakes as "treats"? I never exactly said they were as healthy as a bowl of oatmeal since these days they are mixed with more than just water and the recipe resembles more of a blend of cookie dough and bread dough. At the same time I assure you they are worth the few extra calories and your cup of tea will thank you!
As promised, here is a traditional oatcake recipe if you would like to try them at home. They key is to roll the dough thin enough so when they finish baking they are crispy rather than chewy (about ¼ inch is plenty). Although you can cut them in any shape you like, cutting them in squares is the traditional way...oh and feel free to use your oven, no need to cook over an open flame like the Scottish Highlanders (and whether or not you wear your kilt while baking these is entirely up to you!).
It was my mom who taught me how to make Scottish oatcakes so there is proof of recipes being handed down through generations. She had a habit of burning her baked goods but for some reason her oatcakes always turned out perfect! She was so good at making them, I had her make hundreds of them for my wedding day (yes, that is how I feel about oatcakes - I incorporated them in to my wedding for out of town guests to try).
So, from my kitchen to yours....enjoy this little piece of Scottish (and Nova Scotia) culture!
Traditional Scottish Oatcakes
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
Mix oatmeal, flour, baking soda, salt and borwn sugar together. Cut in butter. Add enough cold water to hold dough together. Roll thin (no more than 1/4 inch thick). Cut in to squares and bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Put on the teapot and enjoy!