Ancestors of Oatmeal Cookies: Oatcakes

Scottish old house

My Scottish ancestors would have lived in this kind of house before immigrating to the United States. A sod-roofed stone house from old Scotland at Highlands Village, Nova Scotia

Visiting Nova Scotia, I was immersed in the Scottish culture of my ancestors, and of course that included FOOD.  In Pictou, at the McCulloch Heritage Center, I picked up a cookbook that shows recipes in both English and Gaelic.

I couldn’t wait to get home to try the most typical cookie/biscuit of Scotland–Oatcakes.  When we attended a ceilidh–a musical gathering–in Baddeck, there was a break during which audience members could buy a cup of tea and an oatcake.

tea cups and oatcakes

Baddeck Gathering Ceilidh intermission–tea cups and oatcakes

One of the musicians remarked that the Baddeck Gathering is the only place he knows of where the audience members are served tea in real cups rather than cardboard or Styrofoam! That makes it memorable, but it is the music and the oatcakes that I remember. I suspect that I will never again have an oatcake without thinking of the joyful, friendly weekly musical event in Baddeck on Cape Breton.

Baddeck Ceilidh

Baddeck Ceilidh

Have you seen the Gaelic language?  As I mentioned in my article about making a kilt, we tried a short class, just enough to convince us we would never have MacBeth’s ghost of a chance to speak the musical language! But we certainly enjoyed listening to the music that comes from that language.

By the way, the Gaelic cookbook from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, categorizes this recipe as “Bread”, but I think of it more as a cookie, or the ancestor of oatOatmeal Cookies.

Here’s what the oatcake recipe looks like in Gaelic:

Oatcake recipe in Gaelic.

Oatcake recipe in Gaelic. From Ás an Abhainn Mhóir: English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County

Have fun baking an oatcake using that recipe.

No? Okay, here’s the English version from the from the same cookbook, Ás an Abhainn Mhóir: English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County.

Scottish Oatcakes

Serves 18-24
Prep time 1 hour, 25 minutes
Cook time 12 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 37 minutes
Allergy Wheat
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
From book English-Gaelic Recipes from Pictou County

Ingredients

  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup boiling water

Directions

1. Combine all dry ingredients and add butter.
2. Cut butter into dry ingredients.
3. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water and mix and cut in with knife, adding more water if needed.
4. Mold with hands and roll into long wedge.
5. Chill dough.
6. Slice chilled dough about 1/2 inch thick
7. Place cakes on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Note

Preparation time includes an hour in refrigerator to cool.

I cheated and added 1/2 tsp vanilla for additional flavor.

I shaped the dough before chilling into a log approximately eight inches long and two inches high.  It flattened on the bottom as it cooled, and I did not try to make it round.  I don't know what size cookie the cookbook writers had in mind, but that made a fairly large cookie, so you could easily make the log longer and narrower for more cookies.

I placed the cookies a little too close together, because they did spread a little bit.

(As you see, I'm calling it a cookie, even though they call it a bread.  Anything with a cup of brown sugar is a cookie in my book!)

Did you know that other than the Scots and some other far-northern peoples, oats were not regularly used for food until the 19th century? The oatmeal cookie, that seems so traditional, is actually a newcomer in the United States. Unless you count oatcakes, which were surely baked by early Scottish settlers like my Anderson and Fife and McCabe ancestors. Read about how recently oatmeal cookies emerged as a favorite in the U.S., and get a couple more recipes at Revolutionary Pie.

oats for oatcakes

Oats drying by a stone house in Highland Village, Nova Scotia

 

All photos used here are my own. Please ask before reusing.

 

5 thoughts on “Ancestors of Oatmeal Cookies: Oatcakes

  1. Nancy

    They look delicious. If it looks like a cookie and it has brown sugar, so I’ll call it a cookie, too. I can’t wait to try them.

    Reply
  2. Bro

    If you ever find yourself burdened with too many Scottish oatmeal cookies, I’ll gladly take some off your hands. We would probably add raisins to ours. This would make them CIOCs (California-Improved Oatmeal Cookies). Re the Scots and oats– Sam Johnson’s dictionary entry for oats: “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Johnson probably never got to taste one of those good oatmeal cookies.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      I probably should have clarified the difference between oatcakes and oatmeal cookies. The oatcakes have no egg, and where they have twice as much oatmeal as flour, the cookies have egg and twice as much flour as oats. I can’t stop you from adding things to the oatcakes, but would advise you save the additions for actual cookies. The oatcakes are best enjoyed as unadorned as the Scottish Presbyterian churches. My favorite recipe for oatmeal cookies, however, is a veritable high mass, including banana, chocolate chips and nuts!

      Reply

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