Saturday, 16 February 2013


Bannocks or oatcakes
          Otherwise known as oatcakes, but I prefer the name bannocks because of Great Uncle Gordon.
          Great Uncle Gordon, I've always been told, was put into the Army Catering Corps for his National Service, and learned to cook. He came home on leave, full of tales of army life and eager to show off his new skills.
          His mother, Great Gran Price, went off to bed early, leaving the young folk - Gordon's younger sister and his cousins, gathered in the kitchen. Gordon declared he was going to make them all some "Scottish Bannocks, like we make in the army."
          Great Gran, upstairs in her bed, heard a lot of clattering and banging coming from downstairs, which instantly made her suspicious (she'd raised a large and unruly family.) She yelled out, "What are you doing down there?"
Great Uncle Gordon, poised to make bannocks
          Going to the foot of the stairs, Gordon said, "I'm making some Scottish Bannocks like they showed me in the army!
          Great Gran could hear things like pots and pans being rattled, but she always had a problem hearing what people said. "Eh?"
          "I'm showing 'em what they taught me in the army - I'm making some Scottish Bannocks!"
          "I'm making some Scottish Bannocks!" Gordon yelled.
          "You what?"
          "I'm making some bannocks, Scottish bannocks, like they - oh, what's the - !"
          "I'm making! Scottish! Bannocks!"
          "You what?"
          "I'm making bannocks!"
          "You'm making what?"
          "Bannocks! Scottish Bannocks!
          "Bannocks! Bannocks, bannocks, bannocks!"
          And then Great Gran rushed down the stairs in her nightie, her long grey plait swinging, and thumped him from the bottom of the stairs back into the kitchen, shouting, "I'll teach you to use that language to me!"
          I've been keeping up the family tradition in past weeks - making oatcakes, that is, not rushing downstairs and thumping people. I have been known to do that, but not for many years.
          What I have done a lot in recent years is buy packs of oatcakes rather than bread. I could never eat the bread before it went stale, and it always made me bloated anyway. I prefer oatcakes, and I find the description on the packet, 'Rough Scottish Oatcakes,' strangely alluring. But a couple of weeks ago I found I'd run out, and I didn't want to make another trip to the shops because I was trying to get some work done. So I looked up a recipe and made some. I had everything I needed in my cupboards, and it was quick and dead easy.
           This is what you need: 225g of oats, 60g wholewheat flour, half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 60g butter, 1 teaspoon of salt,  half a teaspoon of sugar and 60-80ml of hot water.
          Heat your oven 190c or Gas Mark 6.
          Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Rub in the butter - or whizz it all up in a blender until it's like breadcrumbs.
          Then add the hot water, from a kettle, and mix together into a thick dough.
          Roll out - or press out with your hands - until it's half a centimetre thick. Then cut into rounds with an upturned glass or cutter - or just cut into triangles, or 'farls' (as Davy tells me they're called.)
          Put on a baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes. Let them cool before storing in a tin.
          I think they're better than the shop-bought ones.
          I've been experimenting. Make them with the coarse porridge oats that I make my breakfast porridge with and you get a spongy sort of bannock, which is still tasty. Whiz the porridge oats in a blender for a few seconds, and you get a fine oat flour, which makes a smoother, crisper, crunchier bannock.
          Since I've cut out sugar and cut down on salt, I missed these out altogether, and still got a good bannock - though I think a little salt does add a savour. The teaspoon given in the recipe seems far too much to me, though, and I would half or even quarter it.
          Instead of rubbing in the butter, or whizzing in the blender, you can melt the butter in the 80ml hot water, and stir it in. If the oat-flour is very fine, you'll probably need to add more water.
          I've been adding flavourings too. Fennel worked very well. Hazelnuts too. Someone suggested that I soak some raisins in the hot water, and add them, and I'll try that soon.
          I'm not sure that I'll ever bother to buy bannocks again.
          Bannocks! I said, I don't think I'll ever - oh, bannocks.

          I had to look it up. The OED says it's 'Scottish and Nrth Eng. OE bannuc, prhps fr Celtic.' If only Great-Gran had known that.
          And 'farl' is 'Scottish 'thin cake, originally quadrant shaped, of oatmeal or flour, from obsolete fardel, quarter or fourth.' More of that 'slang' that Davy was tawsed for using. And I think it's a bit of a cheek to call a word that's still commonly used 'obsolete.'



madwippitt said...

Good to see you and Blot back!
And having been dragged up in Belfast for a goodly portion of my youth, I can confirm that farl is a fine Irish word which was much in vogue to describe the scrummy triangular soda bread offerings which our neighbour produced every weekend ...
The bannocks sound good. Do you supply food parcels? :-)

Susan Price said...

Nice try, Madwippet, but I'm in a flat spin trying to keep up with all that's going on here - hence the dark blog last week - without supplying parcels of farls to bannock lovers everywhere. In fact, I'm right out of 'em myself and haven't managed to make any yet. And I'd promised myself raisin bannocks...

Joan Lennon said...

Having just re-discovered the joys of crunchy, crispy pumpkin seeds, do you think a handful of them would do?

Thanks for the heads-up about needing finer oatmeal - my porridge oats are definitely on the rough side.

Penny Dolan said...

That word is definitely a brain worm!

"Bannocks" is going into my list of words to utter (when direly needed)when stressed by some annoying incident in front of school or library audiences.

May well use the recipe too.

Anonymous said...

I remember the incident as related to me by my mother (Sue's aunt). In her version the elderly lady accosted said group with an irish Shillelagh.


It occurs to me, that Blot's method of second language tuition has some similarities with this form of attack.


Susan Price said...

I never heard the version with the Irish shillelagh! The Prices weren't the Irish side of the family - where did they get a shillelagh? I shall have to ask Sheila when I see her this afternoon.

Susan Price said...

And, btw, did make some bannock with added cinnamon and raisins - and they are delicious.

Katherine Roberts said...

I have a weakness for Nairns oatcakes - plain, ginger or berry ones. They are great on journeys for snacking without a sugar rush, though rather thin... your homemade ones look wonderful!

PS. Blott, when will we see you on Kindle?

madwippitt said...

Bwaaaaah ... cinnamon and raisin ... now I'm thinking of Welshcakes: added cinnamon could be good there too. Made rhubarb, ginger and cinnamon jelly a few weeks ago: bet that would be nice on top too ...

=Tamar said...

You might try it just once with the full salt amount, or at least the halved amount. I once gave a woman a recipe that used my version of a "pinch'' of salt," but she said it didn't taste the same. Then I measured the salt I used and it was, um, quite a lot more than most people would expect. The amount of salt greatly affects the flavor.

Susan Price said...

Kath - I cheated. That photo is from wikiepedia - though my home-made oatcakes do look rather wonderful.

Madwippet - rhubarb, cinnamon and ginger - yum! I do love cinnamon.

Tamar - I did make the first batch with the recipe's given sugar and salt (carefully measured with my measuring spoons.) I thought it slightly too salty.
I then made them without salt or sugar - didn't miss the sugar, but did miss the salt.
Next made them with slightly less than the given measurement of salt, since I wasn't adding sugar - still far too salty, for my taste anyway.
This is what led me to think that half or even a quarter of the given measure would be better.

madwippitt said...

Sfter being fobbed off by your piffling excuses for not sending a food parcel, I made some myself yesterday: it was a fraught affair after the cornflour fell out of the cupboard on my head. But can confirm that yes, cinnamon and raisin is very nice. They look nothing like your picture though! Oh, and having a terible sweet tooth I increased the sugar a little and added a bit of demerara to the tops as well. Probably de-bannocked them into a bastardized English version!

Anonymous said...

Come to think of it, food and taste is also connected to stories and reports of how others find food I think.

I used to hate leeks and also clams. Love them now, though because of my wife enthusing over the years about them.

Cook book stories?

Seem to remember there was a series of German detective novels based around cooking. Oh - "J.K Simmel" my wife has just called out!