This is the beautiful and romantic Lake of Menteith on the Carse of Stirling, it also has the distinction of being Scotland's only lake. On one of its three islands, Inchmahome, is the the 13th century priory of the Black Canons, once a place of sanctuary to Mary Queen of Scots and Robert the Bruce. The island is also the final resting place of the romantic and charismatic couple The Gaucho or Don Roberto and Gabriela de la Balmondière, 'La Española', who were in fact the 19th Laird of Ardoch, Robert Cunninghame Graham and his wife, a stage-struck bohemian poet and beauty from the Yorkshire Ridings. Their incredible fairytale life is well worth researching. It is also home, when the weather permits and the lakewater freezes over, to the world famous Bonspiel curling tournament. Nearby is the Highland Boundary Fault which, as the name suggests divides the Lowlands from the Highlands - the land of the oatcake. Traditionally each community had its mill with which the local crofters ground the oats, the only crop that would grow in the harsh Northern climate. The oatmeal was used to make porridge, of course but also oatcakes, often referred to as 'the bread of Scotland'.
As the recipe for the oatcake was handed down through families, it is difficult to know its exact origins. However, like the ancient Mongolians, who used their shields to cook their food, documents show that in the 14th century the Chieftain and his clan used theirs to bake oatcakes. It is even believed that the Romans, whilst in the country, to misquote Saint Ambrose; 'did as the Scotch did' and survived on oatcakes!
As for Dr Johnson in his famous dictionary of the English Language, published 1755, under the entry for the grain he wrote: 'Oats n.s. [aten, Saxon.] A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.'
To which the writer Walter Scott returned: 'Did you ever hear of Lord Elibank's reply when Johnson's famous definition of oats was first pointed out to him?
Oats do not contain gluten, however it is best not to buy and use them, if you are gluten intolerant, unless they are labelled gluten-free. Oats can be contaminated by stray plants when other cereal crops are grown in close proximity. For this reason countries like France, where there are no large dedicated oat-growing areas, can not guarantee their oats to be gluten-free. This is why people often get confused about why all oats are not labelled as suitable for those allergic to gluten.
225g - 8oz rolled oats
1 generous pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter or butter and palm oil, dripping, bacon fat or lard
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 8 tablespoons of hot water Extra oats for sprinkling
Chop up oats using a coffee grinder for a few seconds so as to retain the texture of the oats without making a flour.
Mix the dry ingredients and add the melted fat by pouring into the centre of the mixture.
Powder your hands, bowl or board with chopped oats or oat flour and knead the dough, working quickly.
Using plenty of chopped oats, roll out either into a thin round or divide dough into half and roll into two rounds (traditional).
Traditionally the rounds are then marked out into wedges but we roll thinly and cut out biscuit shapes.
Place on a buttered baking tray put in an oven pre-heated to 390°F or 200°C. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes. Or, if you decide to make the traditional wedges, cook on a medium heated griddle or frying pan for approximately 3 minutes. When they are cooked the edges will begin to curl and turn golden brown.
Now meet some of the goats, just in from the fields and having their supper in the barn.
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All the best,
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© 2014 Sue Cross
¹ Letter from Sir Walter Scott to Mr Croker March 14th 1829, The Croker Papers Vol ii p. 35