Rediscovered Stories: TJ’s Oatcakes Keeps Tradition Alive in Staffordshire, England

by Katie Schnuck

Within the quaint town of Staffordshire, in the middle of England, lies a tradition that has nothing to do with eclectic music, fancy dress, or accents that slip off the tongue. The tradition has to do with a piece of food served at mealtime when people gather. George Smith, a filmmaker and recent graduate of Staffordshire University, takes on the local delicacy in his short film, The Ultimate Guide to The Oatcake. The film introduces a family run store, TJ’s Oatcakes & Sandwich Bar, a well-known and favorite oatcake and sandwich shop within Smith’s local town. The shop was established by the current owner’s father in 1973 and has been cooking up meals ever since, hoping to keep traditional food on the kitchen table.

The oatcake has such a fan base that the food has been given its own within Great Britain and Northern Ireland; August 8 every day is  “Oatcake Day.” But, what is an oatcake? 

There is no official authentication of when the oatcake was first created, although it dates as far back as the fourteenth century. Originally, the food was eaten by the poor and sold through the open front windows by their makers and was an easy food to travel with, since all you needed was a small sack of oatmeal and accessibility to water. In modern days, the oatcake has migrated from homes and into restaurants as a menu item to those across Europe, but it has specifically stuck in Staffordshire.

Oatcakes are surprisingly complex. A “lashing” of cool water, a “sprinkling” of salt, a “generous amount” of the “finest” oatmeal, a “dashing” of yeast, and a “heartwarming” helping of oatmeal flour are the basic ingredients described within the film to create the ever-wondrous oatcake. The oatcake is described as a “savory pancake,” for its “not sweet, but savory” texture and taste. It’s a traditional breakfast food but can be eaten at any time of the day, as encouraged by the locals of Staffordshire. You can put anything on the oatcake, including chili and cheese. You can even use it as a wrap for salad. Midway through the film, the employees of TJ’s Oatcakes & Sandwich Bar chime in about a lunchtime delight: a cold oatcake rolled with cheese and a pickle on the side. Versatility seems to be the key to this English food and its multi-use capability has it compared to a crepe or tortilla with an English twist.

This film is an intriguing look at a hidden piece of history and a present tradition that should be introduced to generations to come. If you are looking for a snack that is savory, the oatcake could be the delight you seek. Described as a national legend that is rarely known worldwide, the oatcake is ready for its international debut.