Bakestone Oatcakes: A Bruny Island Brekkie.

Brunyfire has been playing hostess a fair bit over the New Year with family and friends – first there was the Pirate Pizza Party, then a kayaking stint with sister Belinda and Brunyfire’s two teenage nieces.

So there’s always a good reason to fire up the wood oven and the firepit – the latter this time to try out an old Derbyshire recipe from John’s home county to use with some of the Pearson’s ware from Chesterfield that Brunyfire has been religiously collecting (and has been given) over the years.

Chesterfield in Derbyshire is Brunyfire’s life partner’s home town and was also the home of Pearsons pottery until the mid 70s – Pearsons pottery is a robust stoneware range that includes many fine casseroles that have often found themselves in the wood oven.  Also included in the collection are a couple of butter containers, or egg cups – haven’t found out exactly what they’re for – but they provided a good excuse for this post!

So – boiled eggs and Derbyshire oatcakes for brekkie to build up some stamina for a stint on the water.

A boiled egg brekkie on the firepit was inspired by this recent Vinnie find (and if anyone out there can tell me more about them, please get in touch)………P1040024…………a set of aluminium egg boiler/poachers.  I assume you can use as individual units for boiling up one egg, or as sister Belinda suggested, you can use them collectively………..P1040026………… we did in the camp oven.P1040028We boiled up our eggs, and served them up in the Pearsons egg cups on a Janet Mansfield wood-fired plate with a Chinese panda bear spoon (purchased from the panda sanctuary in Chengdu, China) accompanied by Derbyshire oatcakes.  P1040036How cosmopolitan was that!

The recipe for the Debyshire oat cakes was found in John Dunstan’s self-published book of traditional recipes from his book Old Derbyshire Deserts: The Traditional Cakes, Puddings and Biscuits of Derbyshire.P1040037Oatcakes are one of the best known staples in England’s north with numerous variations across the country and were once the basic daily fare for such as the potters of Staffordshire and the miners of Derbyshire.  Oats are a carbohydrate low on the Glycemic Index, which means they release glucose slowly in the body, giving a more continuous supply of energy for manual labours.

In 1813, the chemist and inventor Sir Humphrey Davy noted that Derbyshire miners in particular preferred to eat oatcakes over wheat bread as a form of nourishment that kept their strength up better and for longer – just right for miners, potters and kayakers alike.P1040041Oatcakes date from the 18th century when harsh winters saw farmers growing oats instead of wheat and the tradition of mixing finely ground oats with a little wheat, water, sugar, salt and yeast (and often some bacon fat) gradually moved from the farmhouses and into the towns.

Small brick bakehouses were often attached to the front of houses, and oatcakes were served through the window to paying customers.  The Hole in The Wall, in Hanly, Staffordshire, was the last of these traditional oatcake bakeries having succumbed in March 2012 to a demolition order from the Stoke-on-Trent City Council to make way for a multi-million pound regeneration project of Hanley’s City Waterside.

According to Joyce Douglas in her book Old Derbyshire Recipes and Customs, the most important ingredient for making successful oatcakes was the traditional bakestone, on an open fire, upon which they were cooked.

Originally, it would seem that these bakestones were made of shale (shale is a soft, finely stratified sedimentary rock formed from consolidated mud or clay) that was mined from the upper part of limestone shale that was found at (fittingly) Bakestone Clough near Whitfield in Glossop, Derbyshire. John Farey’s General View of the Agriculture and Minerals of Derbyshire: With Observations on the means of Their Improvement, written for Great Britain’s Agriculture Board in 1923 describes these bakestones as coming from stratified shale that was soft and could be carved and shaped with a knife into thin sheets about 15 – 16 inches in diameter by 1/4 inch thick.  The ensuing fine slabs were then placed upright before a fire in the quarry and ‘annealed’ and then sold to the cottagers for a shilling!

A backstun is also a form of bakestone – but made of gritstone – a hard, coarse-grained siliceous sandstone once mined from quarries around Ashover and Rowsley in Derbyshire (for making grinding mill stones).  The gritstone had the property of being able to withstand great heat – would be placed upon a brundrit or trivet on an open fire – later, they were made of iron as the technology improved.

Brunyfire used a pizza stone to replace a traditional bakestone for the following receipe…..P1040038

Derbyshire Oatcakes

  • 450 grams fine oatmeal (I ground ordinary oats in a blender)
  • 450 grams whole-wheat or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 25 grams fresh yeast or 2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1.18 litre warm water

Mix together the oatmeal, flour and salt in large mixing bowl. Cream together the yeast with sugar and add part of the warm water.  Pour the yeast mix into the dry ingredients along with the rest of the warm water.  Mix slowly with a wooden spoon to a thinish batter – cover and leave for about half an hour until risen.  Grease the bakestone and pour on a cupful at time and cook for about 4-5 minutes till brown.

This was just the stuff for a morning on the water chasing dolphins…….P1040050


4 Responses to “Bakestone Oatcakes: A Bruny Island Brekkie.”

  1. ARRRHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Right I am going to defrost one of the crayfish that is gifted weekly to me, smother it in butter and garlic and eat it spitefully… Oh the egg boiler is very cool too.

  2. Yeah! And I’m going to eat a delicious…um..what can I eat out of spite…. Bugger. I got nothin. But I DO plan to try that oatcake recipe. Maybe I can replace my weekend pikelets with them!

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