Oat Cakes are most definitely a Canadian Heritage Food.
Even though they been documented as existing in Scotland since at least the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, and likely before then. Oatcakes have also been described as being the “mainstay of Scottish breads for centuries”. Jean Le Bel, around 1357-60 describes the Beguine nuns making “little pancakes rather like communion wafers”. This is thought to be an early description of a Scottish oatcake. (Wikipedia)
The Canadian version varies, but all differ from the original Scottish oatcakes and is another food that has evolved from one’s homeland to become a unique Canadian food. Theoretically, Cape Breton and Pictou are famous for their oatcakes in Nova Scotia. My first oatcake was on the South Shore in Nova Scotia, at The LaHave Bakery. They are also famous for their oatcakes and after having one, I know why!
I was just taking one more round at the bakery as there is just so much to see when I spied the basket of oatcakes. I must. Yet, I was not hungry, we had lunch just ahead of us, and so much packed in the car, so I changed my mind, and bought only one. Big regret. Buy. As. Many. As. You. Can. Pack.
Being an oatcake virgin, I had no frame of reference for how they were “supposed to be”, but did ask if they were known for their oatcakes before buying one. “They are our number one seller. That’s what brings people here. Everyone asks for our oatcakes.” Even Vanja was yumming and mmmming. These were sweet. Not like a cookie, but cookie-esque. The texture was flakey, but not crumbly. Not moist, not dry. I tried to take a cross section so you could get a sense of the texture, visually.
The flavour – in my favourite non-descript word – scrumptious. I would guess brown sugar, oats, whole wheat or spelt flour. The biscuit-cake-cracker-cookie actually gave me a sense of eating something really healthy and good for me. I need the recipe. Sadly, and ironically, we never came across oatcakes again, our entire trip until the day before coming home at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market. The Lavender Oatcakes at the Lavender Booth were good. The Hutterite ones were like hard and dry bread-bun-biscuits. Completely different. There was nothing like these oatcakes anywhere in Cape Breton during our time there. Could not find one. I am craving oatcakes, do not have a recipe and would really appreciate it if you are reading this and have a recipe you love that you would share with me.
Walked in the door, and immediately in front of us is a huge gorgeous old room that you just want to stay in and play in. No matter how old. Two counters, one at each end of the room: right and left.
Adjacent to this large room is a bright narrow room for sitting and eating which used to be the drafting room.
Immediately to the right of the front door, just before the drafting room, are these charming stools at a bar overlooking the front street.
The door we came in is to the left, above. You can see each counter and the large room filled with old counters, flooring, shelving, counters and a cash register like one not seen since my childhood.
It simply deserved a moment.
We had just left Lunenburg in the morning, had a lovely scenic drive through the countryside, to Hirtle Beach, and came over in the ferry: a great little shortcut. Time for morning coffee.
The coffee was really, really good coffee. It was hard to find espresso in the country side in Nova Scotia or anywhere in the Atlantic Provinces that we visited, so we were thrilled.
The view from the coffee counter to the other counter.
We sat in the back corner of the old drafting room, admiring the old cabinetry.
And the menu. I wanted the soup, the Haddock Burgar, the Brunch and an assortment of their dessert pastries.
They sell some very special local preserves, but I just could not. I was so hoping the craft co-op was open as each Summer The LaHave Bakery lower level hosts some of the finest craftspeople in the area and they sell samples of their work. I was dying to see the wooden carvings. They also house beautiful hand-made quilts, hand-made leather footwear and so much more. Of course, it was opening up that weekend. Ah, shoulder season.
Charming little vignettes were everywhere.
Can you imagine buying eggshell plant food? Someone had a smart idea.
Local handmade Canadian knives!
And the preserves were endless. I was able to taste some. Want. Longing. If you are traveling during the Summer, and planning a visit to the LaHave Bakery, they are “part of a proud artistic community within the historic South Shore region of Lunenburg County.” And will make suggestions for other stops along your travels. The LaHave Bakery is 15 mins from Bridgewater on the Lighthouse Route (Rte 331). Being close to the LaHave River ferry drop off point, it’s also a quick trip .
Thanks Valerie. I am of Scottish heritage so I am very familiar with Oat Cakes. I eat them almost every day, so of course I was thrilled to read your blog today. I usually buy Nairns although I often make them myself.
My mother and grandmother would be appalled at the thought of adding sugar! They were always a savoury, to be served most often with cheese. In fact, that’s what I had for breakfast today. Scotland was a place where oats and barley grew better than wheat so hence oat cakes. Also many were poor farmers and couldn’t afford sugar. Interesting!
I love your blog. Keep it up.
Valerie Lugonja says
I would love your recipe. I have heard that almost all Canadian Oatcakes do have a little sugar, so am assuming this is the ingredient that differentiates the Canadian Oatcake from the original Scottish Oatcake. Not working on my Doctorate on Oatcakes, so this is a process and I love to learn. Would LOVE your recipe!
Would you be willing to share your recipe? I had oatcakes in Antigonish (my first time) and they were amazing!!!
I see recipe! Sorry. The one I had was more cookie like (shortbread cookie consistency).
Valerie Lugonja says
Well, Rachel, if you find your recipe, please be willing to share it back here. I am an Official Canadian Oatcake Fan!
Deborah Merriam says
Oat cakes in Nova Scotia are served as both savoury crackers (no sugar. a bit of milk in the recipe, lard in place of shortening, rolled thinner, usually called “oat bread” instead) and sweet cookies (with sugar and no milk, sometimes butter in place of shortening), but the cookie version is much more common – maybe because biscuits and bannock replaced the savoury version in NS cuisine? Looks like the ones you had were made with rolled oats, but the oldest recipes used what we now call steel-cut oatmeal. Which cookbooks did you bring home from NS, Val? You likely do have a recipe in those – Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens (the bible of NS home cooking) has two. My recipe is from my husband’s aunt, who taught home ec in Dartmouth, and is nearly identical to one in OOONSK. I like to make mine round, and dip one end in melted dark chocolate and let it harden on wax paper before serving.
Mix dry ingredients in bowl:
2 cups oats, 1 cup all-purpose (or sub in whole wheat) flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup brown sugar <(OOONSK adds 1/4 tsp baking soda)
3/4 cup shortening (or butter)
1/4 cup cold water – add and mix until water is absorbed and it forms a dough, don't overmix
Roll out 1/2 inch thick on floured board, cut into desired shapes. Bake 350F until golden brown (about 15 min).
Valerie Lugonja says
Deb, I cannot thank you enough for including this recipe! I did not bring home that cookbook. No one even told me about it – and I didn’t see it anywhere. I was asking everywhere, too. I did bring home some gems, and will look in them for Oatcake recipes, too! (Duh!)
Looking so forward to cooking and baking if I ever get all these posts written! SO SO SO lovely to see you and catch up the other day. You contribute so much to our community in such a positive way. I learn so much every time I spend with you.
Hi Valerie !
I’m a lone Thermomix owner in Halifax Nova Scotia – no consultant for hundreds of km, bought sight unseen. I saw your post and noticed that you may have picked up a Maritime Cookbook while in ma belle province :). If you picked up ” Best Recipes of the Maritime Provinces ” by Elizabeth Baird , you have the recipe you seek. If not ……
Here is a link to the recipe :
Hope this helps !!
Aileen, in Nova Scotia
Valerie Lugonja says
Aileen, my new best friend! “Hope this helps?” Are you kidding me? Can you feel my big tight appreciative BEAR HUG? Hope I’m not hurting you!
I am thrilled to discover this recipe. Thank you so very much… and good timing. I have the mis en place all good to go (thanks to my daughter) for the Oatcake recipe from Deb in the comment section here, and for the “oatcake/oatbread” recipe from Nancy (her comment is here, then she sent me the recipe). SO, will not get the mis en place ready for this one – and will bake all three and write about them. It will be OATCAKE PARTY TIME in my kitchen this week!
AND you own a Thermomix! I only wish I somehow knew of you before our travels. A coffee would have been wonderful with you, while there. I would love to hear that Thermomix story… and, of course, how you use it and your favourite recipes.
Yay Valerie !!
So glad to help.
I eat a vegan diet and have lost a vast quantity of weight (100+) doing so. I enjoy using my Thermomix to make soups, sauces, chutneys, nut cheeses … So many things 🙂
I wish I was near a Thermomix consultant but I do my best. I have several Australian cookbooks and a couple of the readily available to Canadian ones. I really enjoy your blog – seeing what beautiful food you create !