Celtic Festival Demo – Oatcakes!

Our Celtic Festival demonstration for our Barony is honestly one of my favorite events and something I look forward to every year. (I wish only that it weren’t too close to Pennsic prep-time, but what can you do!?) This year’s demo was just as anticipated for me and I took the opportunity to “up” my food demo game by looking for something to do that was: 1) Food-related; 2) Hands-on for younger kids; and, 3) Period! I chose to make some Scottish Oatcakes — since well, this IS the Celtic Festival after all. It was very, very well received by no only those we were demoing to — but others in our SCA group!

Oatcakes for were made for many centuries from the Vikings — to today! Regarded as an important staple food, oatcakes are synonymous with medieval history, particularly in Scotland. Oats were for the poorer classes, while finer wheat was for the upper class. Oats were the main cereal crop for the most of northern England as far back as early Celtic and Viking cultures. In Scotland, oats were the only cereal that would grow through the harsh weather conditions of the Highlands. This is why oats are the ingredient used in many traditional Scottish recipes. Oatcakes have been referred to as Scotland’s national bread. When Scottish Clans were traveling, soldiers would carry a small sack of oatmeal to safeguard themselves from starving. They would mix the oatmeal with water, and use their shields or an iron plate to cook it over an open fire.

There are many regional variations of the oatcake. Lowlanders in places like Edinburgh and the Lothians, added wheat flour and fats, like lard or butter. Where as a Highlander would never use two kinds of grain together. Their oatcakes were made with oatmeal, a little fat and water, making them brittle. ‘Bonnach Imeach’, is an oatcake from the Hebrides Islands, which is much thicker than other regions. The Gaelic name means cake with butter. The differences in oatcakes also reflect how finely the oats were ground. The finer the meal…the crisper the cake!

For this demonstration, I created a display that had a bit of a history lesson as well as have something the kids could do. and then taste. I cooked the oatcakes onsite so that they were still warm when they were sampled.  I redacted, experimented, and created a recipe for the best oatcake.  There was a stone in the front of the display for the kids to try their hands at grinding oats on a stone — like a Highlander might have in the field! They were thrilled to do so. The oats I cooked with were ground in my food processor at home, though! There were three small dishes with oats, wheat, and barley. I simply put a spoonful of whatever they wished to try to mash up and then let them go to town with the two stones. Surprisingly…many adults tried as well! I also created two boards, one that history about the oatcake (most of the text from above), and the other the history of flavoring with cinnamon and honey.  I had several dishes full of jams, spices, dried fruits, and honey so that when we made the oatcake there would be something that might make it a little more appealing for the ‘littles’ to taste. Come to find out this wasn’t much an issue as I had expected!

I also printed up several recipe cards so that people could take the cards home to try and make them in their own kitchens. I printed about 300 — and ran out! Many people said that they thought were really delicious and would try them again at home which I thought was great!

Below is my recipe for Oatcakes. You should try them yourself! Though, I do suggest grinding the oats in a food processor and not by hand!

Hannah’s Oatcakes

A historical recipe dating from the 14th Century
Saline Celtic Festival 2016

2 c.    Processed rolled oatmeal
1/2 tsp.    Salt
1/2 tsp.     Baking powder
1 tsp.    Cinnamon
1/2 -1 c.    Warm water
1 Tbsp.     Honey
2 Tbsp.    Butter or oil, for cooking

In food processor or blender, grind rolled oats to a coarse, flour-like consistency. Combine ground oats, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Add the honey. Slowly add enough warm water to moisten all of the oats. You may not use the entire cup depending on the coarseness of your oats. Be careful not to add too much water. The consistency will depend on cooking method. Make a thinner dough if you plan to fry; and a thicker for baking. Let stand for at least 10 minutes.

To pan fry: Heat skillet or griddle and add a small amount of butter. Carefully drop dough about 1 Tbsp. at a time (like you would a pancake!) and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes per side or until lightly brown. For a more historical method, use bacon grease instead of butter!

To bake: Roll dough on lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thick. Cut into a circle with biscuit cutter and place on oiled baking sheet. Bake in 350° oven for 15 minutes, until firm and slightly brown.

Great for breakfast served with jam or maple syrup!