The Staffordshire oatcake is one of our more unlikely 'local heroes'. It's kept a bit of low profile - even though its reputation is slowly stretching around the globe thanks to Potteries ex-pats and bloggers
First impressions count. But they're not always right! The Staffordshire Oatcake is a case in point. You wouldn't exactly call it a 'looker' in the food stakes. In fact, it looks and feels a bit like a dirty flannel.
Looking a bit like an oat pancake, it's affectionately known locally as a 'Potteries Poppadom', a 'Tunstall Tortilla', and a 'Clay Suzette', especially in the words of the late local poet Arthur Berry.
This unassuming delicacy is unheard of in large parts of the British Isles. It's yet to be embraced on the national stage and for the foreseeable future, looks set to remain largely a local delicacy.
The shame is that specific oatcake shops are declining in number, although one man, Bill Pearson, is putting together a blog of his visits to such shops. He reckons there are around forty establishments left and is recording them all on his blog.
Most Staffordshire ex-pats dream of their old local oatcake shop... but have to make do with importing countless frozen ones to their new homes - in the hope they'll stay fresh. Believe it or not, there are firms that will do that.
There is a Scottish oatcake or oatie - but it should never be confused with the Staffie version. The Scottish one is hard, bitty and in our humble opinion, tastes nowhere near as nice!
No... there's nothing that tastes quite like a Staffordshire oatcake!
Oatcakes, bacon, cheese and sauce mmmmm!
History of the humble Staffordshire oatcake
Oatcakes are a delicacy which has reportedly been around for hundreds of years...
The making of oatcakes is an inherited tradition that still flourishes today but its history is much debated and many people have their own stories to tell about its origins..
It's a history shrouded in mystery - full of myths, exaggerations but also humble beginnings. We examine some of the facts...
One popular myth links the origin of the oatcake to the times of British Colonial India - that the oatcake is a distant cousin of the flat breads/poppadoms of the Asian subcontinent.
Some claim that local soldiers took such a liking to poppadoms so much that they tried to emulate them on their return to Staffordshire. Of course, they had to use local ingredients and the oatcake was the result!
However, other historical evidence dates the humble oatcake much earlier. There are in fact records as early as the 17th Century of the oatcake in Staffordshire and other central and northern counties of England.
There were certainly several variations of a simple oatcake in these areas including examples from nearby Derbyshire and Lancashire.
Many farmers in these areas grew oats (which had been brought to the UK by the Romans) as the crop suited the windy, bleak and often harsh landscape around the Pennines. Thus oats became central to the diet of the local people.
Twice as big as they are today, the 'oat cakes' were cooked on 'bakestones' (which were essentially early forms of griddles) in family homes.
With the expansion of pottery and mining during the industrial revolution, specialised premises with coal-fired bakestones churned out thousands of oatcakes in order to satisfy the appetites of new workers
Therefore North Staffordshire's rural tradition of oatcake making turned into a booming cottage industry.
But by the end of the 20th century and a slow decline of traditional industries, oatcakes have become more of a local delicacy rather than the staple diet of Staffordshire folk.
There have been attempts to raise its profile nationally. Even some of the major supermarkets started to sell them.
There's now a steady stream of non-Stokies who are touched by its greatness after just one taste. After all, tasting your first oatcake is a bit like eating chocolate - it's a deeply personal moment and many people never look back!
And for those bitten by the oatcake obsession, it's not uncommon for them to be exported over the whole world.
However, as we've said, the dozens of oatcake shops that there used to be in the Potteries have shrunk in number since 1945. But is it less popular? Hard to say - in fact, in some ways, its appeal may even be declining because of the lack of outlets.
last updated: 04/01/2010 at 08:29
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