In much the same way that no other town or city in Britain has derived a nickname from its major industry, Stoke-on-Trent – or “The Potteries”, as it is affectionately known – is also one of the very few places in this country which possesses a genuinely ‘regional’ dish: the Staffordshire Oatcake.
Amidst the current renaissance in British food, chefs, restaurateurs, food critics and experts are calling for more regional dishes – food and drink which is synonymous with the town, city, or county in which it is eaten.
Benefiting from this, Stoke-on-Trent’s humble, but historic, oatcake has been featured in newspapers and magazines, and television – and even has its very own ode.
And at most food fairs in the heart of England, someone, somewhere these days will be selling and promoting a taste of The Potteries.
As one magazine article explains: “What divides Britain – more surely than accent or class – is where you can find the Staffordshire Oatcake”.
Another, while asking “Well, how do you eat yours?” goes on to say: “Whatever your preference, you can bet that you’ll be eating this regional food exclusively in only one corner of the world, and for those of you who are reading this article outside North Staffordshire, I’m talking about the oatcake – that is, the oatcake of the Potteries and its surrounding towns”.
Nothing at all like its Scottish or Derbyshire cousins, it has the appearance of a moist pancake, or crêpe, and is made (usually from a ‘secret’ recipe) largely from oatmeal and yeast.
To some, it’s the ‘Oat cuisine’ of The Potteries; others still describe it as the ‘Tunstall tortilla’, ‘Potteries poppadom’, or ‘Clay suzette’.
At one time, the oatcake was the equivalent of the Cornish Pasty – workers in The Potteries would wrap whatever ‘left-overs’ they had in their oatcakes, and put them close to the bottle-oven kilns to warm them through for lunch. You’ll still find some oatcake shops in the area – mostly in tiny terraced shops, where the smell of freshly cooked oatcakes mixes mouth-wateringly with a full range of fillings.
Oatcakes tend mostly to be eaten warm, with the choice of sweet or savoury filling placed on the top and then rolled into a ‘wrap’. And while an increasing number of leading restaurants and teashops now include them on the menu, they remain one of the healthiest of all fast foods. Not to mention (according to some) an aphrodisiac!
Described as a “delicacy in its own right”, the oatcake is longed-for by Potteries’ ‘exiles’, and has won fans for as long as it has been made.
TV celebrity chef Lesley Waters is one of its greatest fans. Jane Grigson is a convert. And Rick Stein waxed lyrical about them on TV. Though, not quite as lyrically as artist and poet Arthur Berry, who penned an Ode to the Oatcake – and who also issued the warning that: “over-indulgence can lead to bulgence”!