North Staffordshire or Derbyshire Oatcakes

It's quite amazing how certain foods are so local, that even though you live in the County bordering those where they're made, you've managed to get to 56 years old without ever having them.

The Derbyshire or North Staffordshire oatcake is such a one; it wasn't until about 6 weeks ago, on a visit to Hartington, that I had tasted my first oatcake. I've hardly stopped eating them ever since!

North Staffordshire or Derbyshire Oatcakes

Unlike the biscuit that shares its name, the oatcake is soft. I'll leave the debate as to whether they're originally a Staffordshire or Derbyshire speciality to others, but certainly, Stoke on Trent is now its spiritual home. 'National Oatcake Day' is celebrated in the area on 8th August, and the local football club's fanzine is even named after them.

So, what is it? Well, it's a sort of egg-less oat pancake made with a yeasted batter: a 'Tunstall' tortilla' or 'Potteries paratha'! The traditional way of eating them is hot, folded over various fillings. The local potteries newspaper, The Sentinel lists cheese and bacon as the favourite. Bacon, cheese and tomato second, and plain cheese, followed by cheese and mushroom, third and fourth. Sausage in various combinations is also popular. The possibilities are endless and include sweet fillings such a vanilla custard and jam. I've a confession to make here; I too quite like strawberry jam on them!

When I said I'd never tried one, I'd not only never tried them, I'd never even heard of them. It was only the threatened closure of the last oatcake shop selling 'through the window' that brought it to my attention. Regrettably, that battle appears to have been lost: Google streetmap shows the shop derelict and boarded up.

At the time, I thought that I'd get a recipe and make some, but with no benchmark to judge by, I wouldn't have known whether they were anything like authentic. Having now tried them, I'm in a better position to judge; albeit they were the Derbyshire variety: Hartington is at least a mile into Derbyshire from the Staffordshire border! I joke. The ones I tried were definitely the Derbyshire variety, I was near the border in Hartington, but they were from a bakery in Chesterfield.

A quick look on the web, and in my cookery books, has produced a number of very similar recipes, often with the same recipes being quoted for both the Derbyshire and North Staffordshire varieties; it is, however, generally accepted that the North Staffordshire variety has a higher ratio of liquid to dry ingredients.

In the main, the ingredients are fine oatmeal, flour, yeast, water, milk, salt and sugar. However, within those the there are many variations: different types of flour, using all water, or a mixture of milk and water, the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients, and many more.

Fine oatmeal is not easily obtained, so I used standard porridge oats from the supermarket that I ground in a coffee grinder. I have some medium oatmeal that I'll grind the same way; it'll be interesting to see if there's any difference between the oatcakes.

Here's the recipe that I used. The ratios of basic ingredients are very similar to both the online and printed recipes that I've seen. I settled for a liquid level halfway between the amounts most commonly quoted for Derbyshire and Staffordshire varieties; this gives a medium thickness of oatcake. For thicker 'Derbyshire' ones, reduce the liquid to around 700ml, for thinner 'North Staffordshire' ones, increase it to around 850 - 900ml.

North Staffordshire or Derbyshire Oatcakes

225gm oatmeal
125gm Plain flour
100gm Wholemeal flour
7gm 'Instant' or 'Easy Blend' yeast (1 packet)
1 level teaspoon salt
350ml Water (around 37°C) - you may want to add slightly more if you like a thinner pancake.
450ml Semi-skimmed milk (around 37°C)

The recipe is easily adapted for vegans - just replace the milk with more water.

Mix all the dry ingredients together and gradually add the liquids, whisking to form a smooth batter. Leave it for an hour or so in a warm place 'till it there's lots of bubbles on top of it, a warm kitchen's fine.

Heat a pancake pan, or frying pan, over medium heat until hot. Grease it lightly with oil; I used a non-stick 24cm pancake pan and used an oil spray like this one to give a very fine coating of oil:

Oil Spray

Pour, or ladle, approximately 75-100ml of the batter into the pan tipping the pan to spread it all over. Cook until the top looks dry and it's golden underneath. Turn it over and cook the other side. Repeat with the rest of the batter; it should make 12-15 oat pancakes.

A word about turning the oatcakes over. I find that by far the easiest way is to toss them. Trying to use a palette knife just results in a batter wrapped palette knife! If an oatcake lands 'off-centre', I leave it for about 20-30 seconds before shaking the pan to centre it. This allows the oatcake surface to seal before trying to move it.

Whilst bacon and cheese is my favourite topping, I really enjoyed a cheese and black pudding one this morning:

Cheese and Black Pudding Oatcake

It may only have been a 'rat-trap' Red Leicester and a mass-market black pudding, but it tasted mighty good!

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There are twelve comments

Mark Whitehead

I’ve just had one of these for my lunch, rolled up with some thinly-sliced ham and cheddar. (Shop-bought I’m afraid, though I used to make enough of them – and must restart doing so.)

One of the best ways to eat these is fried with bacon and egg(s) on top. Obviously you fry the bacon first (rather than grill) so that you get all the flavour left behind into the oatcake.

NOTE: Does not form part of a calorie/fat controlled diet.

Mark Whitehead, - 27-12-’13 14:50

Hi Mark,
Thanks for posting this.
You’re lucky to be in an area where you can buy them at the shops! Is my recipe anything like the recipe you used when you used to make them?

Phil, - 03-01-’14 20:00

If you go large retailers, you may find oatcakes on sale. They are sold where I work & are very popular with the consumers. Yvette. Manchester

Yvette , - 26-02-’14 00:12

Many thanks Yvette.

Phil, - 26-02-’14 21:04

My family are from staffordshire but my mum moved to kent before having me. I love going to see my nan or up that way because you simply can’t get oatcakes in kent. We bring plenty back and freeze them.
This will be my first attempt at making them!

anna, - 08-04-’14 08:09

They freeze really well.

I hope you enjoy the ones you make.

Phil, - 08-04-’14 15:38

Having just moved to Lichfield I tried them in Burton absolutely lovely! I must try making them myself.

baconmaker, - 21-04-’14 09:29

I hope that they meet your expectations when you try them.

Phil, - 23-04-’14 16:12
John Morrall

Ay up youth..eet’s greet ta know thay larks thay’s “fenton flatties” Tha’s done a greet job on em, an tha’s a credit ta the “Potts”

Well done Phil – Since moving to Greece I have made our own, genuine Staffs oat cakes….The “Secret” recipe was obtained from a lady in Canada, who has spent the past twenty years holidays, on a barge arount the Stoke & Staffs area.

John Morrall, - 24-07-’14 15:55

My uncle married a Derbyshire girl and settled in Meir, Staffs after the war so when I visit my aunty and cousin, as I live in Milton Keynes, I buy five dozen and freeze them. I absolutely adore them either warming them in the microwave for about 40 secs then spreading them with butter or marge and putting a line of golden syrup across then rolling them and microwaving again for another 40secs. Great for breakfast or with vanilla ice cream for lunch. Another way of eating them is heating them in the microwave for 40secs them spreading a thick line of grated hard cheese like cheddar or red leicester followed by wrapping up and securing with a cocktail stick and heating for another two mins depending on how much cheese you’ve put in, I’m extremely generous. I must try your recipe.

Sue, - 20-08-’17 09:38

I hope that you enjoy them Sue.

Phil, - 28-09-’17 13:23

First of all, they are North Staffordshire oatcakes, the “Derbyshire” thing is flagrant cultural appropriation. Secondly, “the” local football club is Port Vale, some other local club of lesser prestige has a fanzine named after the oatcake but we don’t talk about them. The best shop, btw, is on Hamil Road Burslem – the Mother Town of the Potteries.

Valiant62, - 08-06-’19 17:03

I'm somewhat incapacitated at present so replies may take some time. Please post urgent enquiries at the forum.

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