Oatcakes - Rediscovering a Lancashire tradition
Cookery editor Philippa James hunts down a Lancashire oatcake
This article was sparked by one of our readers; Elizabeth Wood, originally from Preston, but now living in Hertfordshire, she wrote in asking if we may know of an old ‘delicacy’ (I use the word advisedly, havinglooked more into this!) known as a Lancashire Oatcake.
Elizabeth went onto describe this with fondness. She said: ‘It was very thin, smooth on one side, knobbly with fine oatmeal on the other and oval, measuring approximately 11" by 6". Being flexible, we used to butter it and spread with golden syrup, roll up, slice and enjoy!
‘I remember buying it at a little shop in a ginnel between Fishergate, and Friargate and possibly at Booths.’
I believe these oatcakes are known as Haverbread; the Lancashire Regiment used to be known as the Havercake Lads and the oatcakes used to be cooked in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, so they were also known as a Pennine oatcake.
They are made from oatmeal, yeast, sugar, salt and water, made into a pancake batter, then cooked each side on a girdle (griddle) pan, cooled and either used, soft, immediately, or dried out to preserve them.
This is how the regiment came to gain the nickname, when the dried oatcakes became known colloquially, as ‘hard’; they were traditionally served, to create a Lancashire dish, known as ‘Stew and Hard’, with the biscuit form of the oatcake so dry, that you needed to dunk it into the stew, to soften it for eating.
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I managed to track down a company who still sell the oatcakes, and discovered that they make their own traditional beef Lancashire Stew, to go with them. This is Jack Simpson’s, owned by Mr and Mrs Bibby, stall 31, on Burnley Market.
450g/1lb fine oatmeal (you can grind regular oatmeal in a food processor if you wish)2 tsp instant, dried, yeast2 tsp sugar2 tsp salt1 dessert spoon oil1.5l/ 2.5 pints warm water (approx) - hand hot, no warmerMethod
1. Combine the oatmeal, yeast, sugar, salt and oil in a large bowl. Form a well in the centre and add just over half the water. Stir to combine then keep adding water until it resembles a pancake-like batter.
2. Heat and lightly oil a frying pan then add one cup of the batter and cook for about four minutes per side. Set aside to cool as you finish cooking the remaining batter. Either use immediately or dry to make ‘hard’. The oatcakes will keep a few days in the fridge and they freeze well.