Stoke & Staffordshire

Why Staffordshire oatcakes are being eaten in Arizona

Oatcakes being made
Image caption Nicknames for Staffordshire oatcakes include Tunstall Tortilla and Clay Suzette

It's like a pancake, but not a pancake. It's definitely not a biscuit like its Scottish cousin.

The Staffordshire oatcake is a unique delicacy people in the county will at times talk about for a long, long time.

It's made from a recipe typically including oatmeal and yeast and turns out looking rather like a dirty flannel.

But don't let that put you off. People in the Potteries love them.

They've sent us questions about their history and appeal and told us how they've taken their oatcakes across the world.


The local "superfans"

Image caption Oatcakes are often served with savoury delights, including bacon, mushrooms and lashings of cheese

Michael Collins is a born-and-bred Stokie and started eating Staffordshire oatcakes about 60 years ago.

He calls them "food from the gods".

As a youngster he would dip a rolled-up oatcake in bacon fat from his Saturday morning breakfast.

"It tasted lovely, almost better than the bacon itself."

This self-confessed "superfan" faced disaster when one of Stoke-on-Trent's beloved oatcake shops, Hanley's Hole in the Wall, shut in 2012.

He could no longer get his oatcake fix from the business where customers had queued at the window of a house to satisfy their craving.

After enduring weeks of supermarket-bought products, he found a local bakery making oatcakes and hasn't looked back.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Oatcakes were produced in the "traditional way" at Hanley's Hole in the Wall

Michael even got his neighbours hooked, such is his love of them.

Another superfan, Jan Lacey, from Kidsgrove, says she takes oatcakes on holidays to Cornwall - including for family members living in the South West.

She passed on her love of the "Tunstall tortilla" by weaning her now 28-year-old son on them as a baby in his pushchair at Wolstanton Social Club.

If you've not sampled a Staffordshire oatcake, they have the texture and consistency of a pancake but with a more oat-like taste.

The main reason cited by many in the Potteries for the huge appeal is their ability to go with both sweet and savoury toppings - one day you eat them with cheese and tomato, the next with strawberry jam.


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Expats' look of bliss

Think this oatcake is only found in Staffordshire? Think again.

Image copyright Larraine Eastwood/BBC
Image caption Larraine Eastwood has taken the oatcake to Canada

Larraine Eastwood has taken them to Canada for her family.

"The look of bliss on their faces was incredible."

It all started in the early 1970s when, visiting her expat relatives in Nepean, Ottawa, she asked what they wanted.

Staffordshire oatcakes came back as the unanimous first choice.


The Staffordshire oatcake

Image caption Pancake-like oatcakes, such as these, are distinctive to Staffordshire
  • A type of savoury pancake made from oatmeal, flour and yeast
  • Staffordshire oatcakes are not to be confused with Scottish oatcakes, which are more biscuit-like
  • The oatcakes, which look similar to pancakes, can be eaten with savoury or sweet toppings
  • Favourites include bacon; cheese; mushrooms; syrup; jam; and chocolate spread
  • Local nicknames include Potteries poppadom, Tunstall tortilla and Clay suzette
  • There are records as early as the 17th Century of the oatcake in Staffordshire

During the trip she was "terrified", at 21, of being stopped by customs officers.

But she managed to hand over the "precious cargo" to her aunt.

As oatcakes were served at breakfast to every invited expat, tears could be seen.

"It was like they were biting into a part of their hometown," she recalls.

For those people who don't have Potteries relatives to deliver them oatcakes, local producer Povey Oatcakes says it will send the product overseas - although this can cost a lot.

Another business, High Lane Oatcakes, says while it does not ship overseas, plenty of people buy its wares to send abroad.


Cooking one up in Arizona

Image copyright Vanessa Carroll
Image caption Vanessa Carroll, now living in the US, makes her own oatcakes

Vanessa Carroll doesn't bother importing them to her US home or wait for a relative to visit sunny Arizona.

She turns on the hob and makes her own.

Vanessa, a former resident of Congleton, just over the border in Cheshire, "grew an addiction to them".

Having crossed the Atlantic, it was while reminiscing about the delicacy she decided to find a recipe online.

After perfecting her technique - years of English pancake flipping came in handy - Vanessa says her US friends are "total converts".

"That is the lucky few I invite to join us for breakfast," she says.

Image copyright Jeff Shaw
Image caption Jeff Shaw is another Staffordshire exile, who has created his own recipe

Jeff Shaw, who formerly lived near Porthill, Staffordshire, has spent years working on his unique blend of ingredients.

Aged seven, he used to make oatcake deliveries.


Ode to the Oatcake - Recipe from Eileen Burton

Ingredients:

  • 1lb 4oz (567g) medium coarse oatmeal
  • 12oz (340g) strong white plain flour
  • Three tbsp dried skimmed milk
  • 4 tsp quick act dried yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar

Full method here on the BBC website


Work took him to Shetland where, finding other Stoke-on-Trent expats, an old recipe was discovered and Jeff began making his own.

Such was his desire for the perfect oatcake, special frying pans were bought.

When work saw him move again, this time to Aberdeen, he took his special recipe with him and the advent of social media sent it global.

Requests have come via Facebook from folk as far afield as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai, he says.

A global phenomenon?

It appears the Staffordshire oatcake's appeal has truly crossed the world.


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