Eatng Medieval: Oatcakes

Dawn rose on the third day, pink rays streaming over the eastern mountains, lighting the night’s mist into a magical morning landscape. Shawn sat against a tree halfway up the slope, staring down the mountainside. He hadn’t expected anything, he told himself. 

Through days of climbing the hill, traipsing through the valley, exploring the old Roman fort at the top, and searching for anything unusual, for anything to explain Thomas the Rhymer’s disappearance, he hadn’t expected anything. The story was too ridiculous. 

And yet—he’d hoped. Images of Amy had burned before his eyes and in his heart, as he climbed each slope, and searched rocks, and followed streams, as he hunted with Niall and gathered berries and fixed more oatcakes. Thoughts of her home in the States with Rob had plagued him. That he’d never see his child, never even know if he had a son or daughter, haunted him. That they were heading into enemy territory to spy terrified him. If they both ended up in a dungeon, there was no one to rescue them this time...

~~The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

Much like the American colonies fight for independence, the story of Scotland's Wars of Independence under Robert the Bruce were a David and Goliath story, as a small, poor country fought against what was then the most powerful nation on earth, larger, wealthier, with greater population and better arms.

England's knights were more likely to have armor and massive warhorses, whereas the Scots' units were more likely to be seen in leather 'armor' and quilted gambesons, using long spears--the famed schiltrons--against these warhorses.  Their cavalry often consisted of a smaller, lighter animal often called the garron.

However, a good general knows how to use everything he has.  The Scots succeeded, against these great odds, in part because they knew how to travel light.  Their garrons could maneuver their hills in ways that the English armies, with their long supply trains could not.

At least one account describes how the Scots traveled with their bags of oats under their saddles.  No chuck wagons for them, but oatcakes or bannocks.  Here are a couple options if you'd like to try making your own--after making your Cookies of Joy, of course!

#1: Traditional Oatcakes in the Oven

3-1/2 cups rolled oats (not the quick-cooking type!)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
fresh berries
pine nuts, chopped

Preheat oven: 350 degrees  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

  1. Mix oats, salt, flour, and honey.
  2. Rub in butter until it all has a crumby texture
  3. Add just enough water to dampen the dough
  4. Divide the mixture into two--pour half of it into a second bowl
  5. Add berries to one bowl, pine nuts to the other--mix well
  6. Form dough into rounds, no more than 1/4 inch thick
  7. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until they're a light brown
Serve plain, or with jam or butter.

I would think the Scots could have easily added what they liked to their oatcakes--whatever they found in the forest or along their path while traveling.

Obviously, however, they didn't carry ovens with them--especially not ones that could be pre-heated to 350 degrees!  So here's a recipe for cooking bannocks over an open fire.

#2: Bannocks over a Fire

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter

1-1/4 cups water

Preheat the fire to hot coals.  I suppose this would be more like post heat?  Let it die down to hot coals?

  1. Mix the ingredients, adding the water slowly so that you get a consistency firm enough to wrap around a stick.  (Flour on your hands will help prevent the batter sticking to your hands as you shape it around the stick.)
  2. Stick edges of dough together well!
  3. 7-10 minutes over the coals, slowly rotating.
If you have one at your campfire, the bannocks can also be cooked in a frying pan or on a griddle.  Just make sure to flip them to prevent burning on either side.

As an added bonus, if you care to discuss dancing, talking, or listening--on the table or on the plane, on the street or on the plane--while you cook your oatcakes, stop by my Gaelic Word a Day blog.

A Feast of Ice & Fire by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer


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