Oat Cuisine: a selection of Scotland's definitive biscuit
- The Larder
- 1 May 2009
Mary Contini of Valvona & Crolla helps us pick through the crumbs
Oatcakes are the definitive Scottish biscuit, but there’s a vast range. The Larder got together with Mary Contini in the Valvona & Crolla Food Hall in Jenners to sample a selection.
Nairns Organic Oatcakes
In their green tartan box with convenient, individually portioned packets, these are one of the more ‘polished’ oatcake varieties available. They contain no added sugar and are made using rough oatmeal and without the addition of wheat flour – which cannot be said of all oatcakes, so those with intolerances beware. A relatively neutral taste, they would perhaps make a good vehicle for a strong cheese or game pâté.
Macleans Cocktail Oatcakes
From the small Outer Hebridean island of Benbecula come these lovely little bite-sized oatcakes, produced by Macleans’ small but successful family business. They have a home-baked feel to them and smell fresh and sweet, although they contain no sugar. Darker in colour and flavour from a longer bake, with their unusual grainy texture they are both rich and moist. Also made in a larger, triangular size, these are one of our favourites.
Isle of Skye Baking Co Original
These attractively packaged oatcakes are one example of a wide range of goods from a small independent bakery in Portree, Skye. Made in the traditional way – using lard and a combination of fine oats and pinhead oatmeal – these oatcakes have a rough, dry texture and a rustic, home-baked style. Notable more for their texture than any distinctive flavour, they’re designed as a good carrier for cheese or perhaps marmalade.
Paterson’s Olive Oil Oatcakes
Paterson’s markets these oatcakes as being orang-utan friendly, as they avoid the use of contentious palm oil, the cultivation of which endangers vast numbers of rainforest wildlife in south-east Asia. This particular variety has a crisp, high-baked texture, though there’s no doubting the olive oil gives them a distinctive taste. Made using the bare minimum ingredients – oats, oil and salt – these are good for vegetarians and those with wheat intolerances.
Stockan & Gardens Cocktail Oatcakes
Another island entry, this time from Stromness in Orkney. These elegant little oatcakes benefit from the addition of a little sugar as well as the usual salt, giving them an appealing sweet and salty tang. The texture is grainy and mealy – almost buttery – thanks to the combination of oats and wheat. Also sold in quarter round (triangular) packs of varying thickness – which itself alters the way the oatcake tastes.
Wooleys Arran Oatcakes
In general oatcakes suffer from flimsy and unattractive packaging, so these stand out from the crowd with their easily resealed or folded bag. Their crisp texture, high-baked flavour and fresh, home-baked smell are appealing, but as a thick oatcake they offer more than a hint of digestive biscuit – possibly thanks to the addition of brown sugar to the mix.
Adamson’s of Pittenweem
These well-known hand-made oatcakes have a distinctive triangular shape and are rough-and-ready in appearance. Unfortunately they don’t travel well and tend to break easily, not helped by rather flimsy packaging. While they are nutty, rustic oatcakes with an old-fashioned and traditional charm, their thickness and large size make eating just one quite an undertaking.
These oatcakes have been made using the same Inverurie family recipe since 1928, and are a good example of the fact that many small local bakeries still produce their own oatcake. Unusually for an oatcake recipe, they contain a splash of milk, which gives them a crumbly, soft texture. Very thin and with a high fat content, these oatcakes taste unlike any of the other brands on the market.
This small independent Perthshire bakery makes four different styles of oatcake, all in a distinctive rectangular or square shape. The green-packaged ‘Traditional’ variety are pale in appearance and have a fairly soft, floury texture. The yellow-labelled ‘Thin and crispy’ variety are sweeter, with a crisp, crunchy texture that finds an affinity with cheese. A popular artisan product, the range also includes a thicker sweet oatcake and a black pepper version.
Walkers Fine Oatcake
These factory-produced oatcakes are very different from their hand-made cousins, both in appearance and texture. Vegetarian and with a high oat content, this variety is fine and slightly floury – although curiously contains no wheat flour. They are savoury, with no sugar added, but are on the bland side. The packaging features text in a variety of languages, reflecting these oatcakes’ scope in the export market.
Isle of Skye Baking Company – Dill & Black Pepper
Another strong contender from the little Skye bakery. Plenty of pinhead oatmeal in the recipe creates a nutty texture, with a taste that is spicy and savoury, with just a hint of the herby dill at the end. Peppery without being too intense, they would go well with a mild creamy goat’s cheese or crowdie, perhaps with the addition of some smoked salmon for a bit of luxury.
Stoats Cracked Black Pepper Oatcake
These are very ‘short’ oatcakes, made without the addition of flour. Crispy but not crunchy, they are light in both taste and texture. The black pepper is definitely present, but not so intense as to mask the good-quality basic oatcake underneath. An underlying sweetness comes through the spice, which makes these oatcakes a great match for a smoked fish pâté.
The earliest oatcakes were made in the seventeeth century using a mixture of barley and oats, creating a filling breakfast biscuit that could keep a worker going until evening. With little wheat flour available to bake bread, oatcakes were also valued for their keeping qualities, offering a traveller sustenance for many days into his journey.