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  • 14 Feb

    Flip! 18th Century pancakes!

    Posted by Team Macsween

    How would you like to spend a year living as an 18th century woman?  I am reading a fascinating book at the moment about just such a woman called Fiona Houston, who decided to live for year in the shoes of one of her ancestors as a school master's wife.  Spurred on by her desire to prove that people ate better 200 years ago compared to today's modern diet, Fiona challenged herself to take up residence in a humble cottage in the Scottish borders and live life as if in the 1790's, eating only food she had grown or foraged herself.  It is a wonderful story full of everyday details of the period that make me feel very grateful for my instant central heating and flushing loo, and yet wistful for days when we lived a life closer to the rhythms of nature and arguably had a deeper gratitude for food, given its rarity at certain times of year and the enormous efforts involved in preparing even a humble meal.

    So with Shrove Tuesday just around the corner next week and pancakes in mind, I was intrigued by an old recipe in the book for 'Derbyshire oatcakes'.  Don't be put off by the name - they really are what we would know as pancakes!  The recipe worked out fine, helped I am sure by a very good non-stick pancake pan I have recently acquired.  And as for the filling - well, my preference is a savoury pancake and so sticking with a humble, seasonal theme, I used some traditional haggis, kale and a bit of cheese sauce.

    So if you'd like to give it a go, here is the recipe.

    Derbyshire oatcakes

    You can increase the proportion of oatmeal at the expense of the wholemeal flour if you prefer.  This recipe made about 12 pancakes when I tried it, but it rather depends on the thickness you prefer and the size of your pan.


    1/2 pint milk
    1/2 pint of warm water
    1 tsp sugar
    2 heaped tsp dried yeast
    1/2 lb fine oatmeal (or whizz porridge oats in the food processor)
    1/2 lb wholemeal flour
    2 tsp salt
    Butter for frying


    Combine the milk and warm water in a mixing bowl.  (You are aiming for just above blood heat but not so hot you kill the yeast).  Add the sugar and yeast and then set the bowl in a warm place for about 20 minutes to get the fermentation process going.  Now stir in the oatmeal and flour, adding the salt last.  You should have a fairly thin batter.  Leave this to froth up, which should take about 20 minutes in a warm place, but longer if it's cooler.

    Now butter the frying pan and heat it well, but not enough to burn the butter.  Use a cup or a ladle to measure out a portion of the mixture into the pan, bearing in mind how many oatcakes you're aiming for.  Fry the mixture over a moderate heat for several minutes, resisting any impulse to poke at it, or attempt to turn it until the surface has dried and the edges come away from the pan.  The second side will cook quickly (I tend to have 2 pans on the go at the same time to speed things up).  Completed oatcakes can be kept hot by wrapping them in a clean tea towel and stowing them in a cool oven; or they can be reheated later if you prefer.

    For Jo's savoury filling - about 10 or so

    Haggis serves 2-3, which weighs about 1 lb / 454 g hot
    Kale (I used Cavelo Nero leaves) - about 1 leaf per pancake, chopped and cooked
    Cheese sauce - about 3/4 to 1 pint

    1. Heat the haggis - you can do this in a matter of minutes in the microwave by chopping the haggis into chunks.  Remember to take the casing off first!
    2. Steam the chopped kale until softened.
    3. Make up a batch of cheese sauce - the amount depends on how much sauce you'd like both inside the pancake and for pouring over the top.  Use a standard recipe and add your preferred cheese.
    4. For assembly, spoon the hot haggis and kale leaves down the middle of the pancake, pour over a bit of sauce and roll the pancake up.
    5. Place completed pancakes into an oven proof dish, pour the sauce over the top and bake in a moderate oven (160C) for about 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and turning brown on top.
    6. Serve with a crunchy salad.

    Pancakes 1 Pancakes 2  
    Pancakes 3 Pancakes 4

    Read the book

    The Garden and Cottage Diaries.  My year in the eighteenth Century.
    By Fiona Houston.
    Published by Saraband.

    It is a delightful book, fill of pictures, recipes, nature notes, gardening tips and of course Fiona's amazing story of her remarkable year.

    The Cottage & Garden Diaries
    Got any good pancake recipes or stories to tell us?