Illustrated books



Oatcake it a flatbread made with many regional variations. To make it is a craft requiring skill, as anyone who tries his hand will discover. From the 15th century all kinds of oatcakes were called Havercake, from Angle-Norse hafri meaning oats, but in the 18th century that term died out in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

In West Yorkshire, Craven and Lancashire it was made like a pancake but with yeast. Besides Oatcake it was called "thrown oatcake" "riddlebread"

Oatcake was either hung over a drying rack until a crisp then served sprinkled into stews like sheep's head broth. In Inns it was left hanging on the racks for customers to take a piece as they wished. It kept children going between meals.

Or else it was eaten warm and fresh with butter; or with treacle though that was frowned upon by traditionalists. But mosty it was eaten soft rolled with a savory filling, often sausage.


Put half pint (0.28 L) of buttermilk into a bowl

Add one pint (0.6 L) of warm water, hot enough to bring the mix to blood heat, ca. 98 °F (37 °C)

Crumble in 1/2 oz (14 g) of fresh yeast OR 1 tsp (4.7 g) bicarbonate of soda

Gradually stir in 1/2 pound (0.25 kg) of fine ground oatmeal

Stir well then wrap a cloth around the container and leave in a warm place for an hour until risen.

Adjust to a thick pouring consistency by adding a little more meal or water.


Grease the griddle then test for temperature with a dot of batter.

Historic method: Sift oatmeal onto the riddleboard. Pour on a ladleful of batter then spread and level it by a circular horizontal movement. When even slide off onto the linen-covered spittle board. With this "throw" (flip) it on to the bakstone then take up the linen.

Modern method: Find or make a special scraper ca.12 inch long with short legs at each end to produce the preferred thickness. Pour a ladleful of batter onto the hot griddle and run that scraper over it to make it an oval about 11x6 inch (28x15 cm)

Cook rapidly, 4 to 6 minutes, to prefered color – some liked them brown, others liked pale – then lay out on a baking rack to cool.



When fresh soft and warm: eat with butter or treacle.

When cool but soft: roll around a savory filling e.g, sausage, bacon.

Toast the cake covered with a mixture of egg and grated cheese.

Fry the cake with a thick rasher of bacon, two eggs and a slice of black pudding.

Dried cake: can be served sprinkled into stew, broth or gravy, or nibbled as a snack food.



[1] Hartley, Marie; Joan Ingilby (1968). Life and Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0498076687.

[2] Walker, George (1813). The Costume of Yorkshire, illustrated by a series of forty engravings, being facsimiles of original drawings. With descriptions in English and French. Plate 9 Woman making oat cakes can be viewed at Leeds Museums and Galleries, Accessdate October 2013

RECIPES: Chris's Yorkshire Yummies, Accessdate October 2013


In about 1810 this Yorkshire cook is spreading the batter on the riddleboard by a circular horizontal movement. Behind her is the built-in bakstone and above, to its right, hangs the bread flake[2]

The oats were homegrown and ground by at nearest mill. It was stored it in a "meal ark" kept, as was the custom, in the bedroom over the kitchen. The ark was divided into two compartments, oatmeal in the larger side and wheatmeal in the smaller.

The griddle was called a bakstone. Before the 19th century a bakstone was a portable flat oval flaggy sandstone ca.1.5-inch (3.8 cm) thick, set on an open fire. These then became replaced by a cast iron plate about 17 inch diameter yet its name remained unchanged. It had a hooped handle called a bewl with a swivelling ring at the top. It rested on bars which spanned the fire, called a crow, or branderi, fixed on the front bar of the fire grate.

In large houses they were built-in adjacent the chimney, with a firebox under an iron plate ca.3 ft (91 cm) by 1.5 ft (46 cm), or if larger a pair of 2 ft (61 cm) square plates.

In the 18th century the batter was mixed in a small wooden bucket which was not cleaned, so that the particles on the sides acted as a fermenting agent for the next baking. In the 19th century they switched to bakers yeast and porcelain containers or enamel pails. Later on, since many do not like the taste of yeast, bicarbonate of soda became a common substitute.

The size of the ladle had to vary relative the current cost of oatmeal, for over decades oatcakes were by tradition one penny each,[2] or 18 for a shilling.

Before ca 1860 the method was called "thrown oatcakes" or riddlebread. The baker sifted oatmeal on the riddleboard ca. 20 in circular. Poured on a ladleful of batter then, by a circular horizontal movement, spread and leveled the batter. It was then slid off onto a piece of linen on the spittle board. The spittle board had hadle. The cake was thereby "thrown" (flipped) on to the bakstone and the linen taken up.

Baking racks for ccoling were contrived by turning a chair on its side and covering the legs with a white cloth.

Oatcakes made for drying were left until crisp on a fixture called the bread flake. Flake (pronounced fleeak) is from the Old Norse fleki meaning a hurdle. Flakes in Wharfedale had wooden laths e.g., a big one at a manor house measured 10.5-foot (3.2 m) by 4.5-foot (1.4 m) with 23 cross bars. Those in upper Ribblesdale had strings, over two of which each cake was laid. In some areas the rack was called a bread creel.


By contrast in North East Yorkshire and Teeside oatcake was made thick and dense with no yeast or soda and is still called Havercake. In some areas it was called Clapbread from being beaten into shape with the hands. Before lambing, hay and sheep salving times a day was set aside for baking havercake. The dough was made in a wooden kneading trough called the knade-kit.

Havercake recipe
6oz fine or medium oatmeal
A pinch each of salt and bicarbonate of soda
2oz flour
Boiling water
Dripping the size of a walnut

Knead into a stiff dough then shape it with your hands or a rolling pin to ca. 20 inches round and as thick as your finger. Roll this cake up onto the "turner", a long thin rolling pin, from which unroll it onto to the bakstone, which had a hot and a cool end. First bake it on the hot half, then lift and turn over with the fingers or spittle onto the cool side. Or bake in an oven ca.25 minutes at 350F (180C).

In Langstrothdale and Dent it was then kept in three drawers in the kitchen dresser: that in the top drawer was ready to eat, that in the second was still drying, and that in the third had just been put in.

In Swaledale it was transferred to a wooden cake stool in front of the fire to dry, then finally stored in the havercake scuttle (a basket). Or the cakes might be wrapped in a white cloth and stored on the ceiling boards of the kitchen.

Children were brought up on havercake and cheese. The children always ate it for supper and were taught to eat politely by breaking off small pieces from the big cake. It was eaten with butter and cheese and crappins, a product of rendering down pork fat. A farmer set off on to the moor with pieces in his pocket, and coming home broke a bit off and cut off a slice of raw bacon to lay on it to eat.

Wellington's "33d regiment of foot" was well-known as the Havercake Lads.[2]

After the failure of the lead-mines when families emigrated they packed havercake in apple barrels to take with them across the 'Great Dub'.