My cousin recently said that if he could only eat one thing for the rest of his life, it would be Staffordshire Oatcakes. I’m with him all the way. For the uninitiated, Staffs Oatcakes are something like a mix of pancakes, chappati’s and burrito wraps, but much better. They are unique. What really makes them wonderful though is the fillings. Painstakingly grilled bacon and cheese, wrapped up and served whilst piping hot, for example. They are a delicacy. They are also steeped in history, as they fuelled the Potteries and Pit workers of the county from Industrial boomtime to 20th Century decline. I read an evocative account recently, of droves of pitmen and women walking uphill to the coalmines, being passed their breakfast directly from an Boathouse kitchen window. Though they be easy to eat on the move though, they should be savoured, in good y, sitting down.
I am even more enamoured of these beauties now that I have cooked a batch. I know this makes me less than a novice, but I am still very pleased, because I feel that I have a deeper understanding of them. If I wasn’t so full after trying them, I’d make another batch. As well as replete, I also feel very grateful to the wise lady who taught me how to make them. She literally taught me, and watched as I mixed up the ingredients ready to cook some. At the time she instructed me in reverential tones, dropping pearls of wisdom such as “they’ll tell you when they are ready to turn”, and ” it is humid today, so they’ll respond to that”. Well she’s absolutely right. There’s no rushing them, and getting the bubbly fermentation right is a fine art. There’s something atavistic about it, because you have to be attentive to changes and textures. No technological distractions allowed. It is fascinating.
What I am perhaps most pleased with is that I can now hone my Oatcake skills, and enjoy them whenever I want to (my son loves them too, so perhaps its genetic). I find them comforting and nourishing. They are home. I now live in the South West where the only Oatcakes that can be found are those hard, brittle crackery Scottish ones. My parents bring some softuns down when they visit, but these are invariably devoured within hours of arrival. It is already my New Year’s resolution to learn how to make them properly, and perhaps even to pass on the alchemy of oatcakes to somebody else. Only by giving them the ‘lesson’, of course.
© Tom Tide 2016