“It’s a bit like Craggy Island”.
The jovial Alastair Dobson was suggesting that the Isle of Arran might have something of the remoteness and quirkiness of Craggy Island, the fictional setting for the equally fictional Father Ted.
Whilst Arran is a rural island outpost and does necessitate almost an hour’s ferry crossing from the Scottish mainland, it’s still within easy reach of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Its appeal as a place to live is evidenced by the fact that many of its 5000+ residents are not native islanders but blow-ins from other parts of Scotland, Northern England and elsewhere.
Boasting the highest density of artisan food producers of any postcode in Scotland – and producing high quality fresh vegetables and herbs, cheeses, mustards, oatcakes, ice cream, beer, Scotch whisky and more – the island also appeals as a place where you can drink and eat, both locally and well.
What’s particularly impressive about the food production on Arran, though, is its truly co-operative nature. Taste of Arran and its founder, the aforementioned Alastair Dobson, have a lot to do with that.
When I met Alastair, he was busy serving his Arran Dairies ice cream to a long queue of people at the Brodick Highland Games. Supplies of their Great Taste award winning chocolate ice cream were gone by the time I got there, but Alastair’s favourite, the traditional dairy variety, was in plentiful supply, so I got busy eating.
Deftly passing out equal measures of ice cream and good cheer, Alastair talked about his progression from dairying to ice cream production and thence to the promotion and marketing of island-produced food with the establishment of Taste of Arran.
Taste of Arran is not only about shared marketing resources, though. It has fostered an extremely rich co-operative network on the island. You will find, among many others examples, Arran mustard made using Arran whisky, Arran chutney featuring Arran beer and Arran ice cream flavoured with Arran Gold whisky liqueur. You will also find local restaurants (such as the excellent Brambles Seafood And Grill at the Auchrannie Resort) proudly serving (and naming) the Arran products that they use.
The De Courcys, meanwhile, who run the charming Arran Barn, will proudly tell you that the makings of your breakfast will be locally sourced where possible and, where appropriate, will be harvested to order.
All of which explains to me why so many non-islanders have chosen to make this their home. It’s a place that not only gives good cause to visit Scotland but to stay.
Oatcakes might well be one of the definitive Scottish foods. Goodness knows, they’ve been around for a long time. According to my Little Scottish Cookbook, the 14th century chronicler Jean Froissart recorded that Scottish soldiers would carry a flat plate and a wallet of oatmeal. Using a little water, they could always make themselves an oatcake over an open fire.
In their traditional form, they are an austere kind of food. Just oats, salt and bread soda mixed with a very small amount of liquid fat and water. That doesn’t mean that they’re not good, though. I became very fond of the excellent bran oaties from Wooleys of Arran, which add wheat bran and a small amount of brown sugar to what otherwise seems a fairly traditional formula. Having very quickly eaten through my stash of said oaties, I found myself needing to recreate them and fast.
Taking Wooley’s lead and replacing some oats with wheat bran and adding a spoon of sugar, I ended up with something that wasn’t a bad approximation of the original. Not as crisp and perfectly baked, mind, but I was still happy to scoff them. I also took the step of toasting the oatmeal first to try and bring out its nuttiness, though feel free to skip that step if you like.
- 175g porridge oats (rolled oats) plus a little extra for rolling out, or substitute with fine oatmeal
- 75g wheat bran
- 0.25 tsp of salt
- 0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tblsp demerara sugar
- 1 tblsp butter, melted
- approx 150ml to 250ml just-boiled water
You’ll also need:
- A couple of large baking sheets (mine were 30cm x 40cm) and a coffee or spice grinder for grinding the oats.
- Preheat your oven to 200C
- If using porridge oats and you want to toast them first, spread them onto the baking sheets and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes, just until the flakes have browned lightly and being careful not to let them burn. Allow them to cool slightly and grind to a coarse flour texture using a spice grinder. Alternatively, you can grind the porridge oats directly or just use fine oatmeal.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, bran, salt and bicarbonate of soda.
- Make a well in the centre and add the melted butter and about 150ml of the just-boiled water. Mix together to form a stiff dough – adding more water if the mixture is too dry. Knead the dough so that it comes together smoothly.
- Roll the dough out to a thickness of around 3mm on a surface sprinkled with some additional oatmeal. Cut into triangles, rounds or squares as you prefer.
- Place on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the oatcakes have firmed up and are starting to turn golden brown at the edges.
- Cool on a wire rack and enjoy spread with butter or topped with cheese.
- For regular oatcakes, replace the bran with additional oats. You could also try adding some grated cheddar to the mixture to make cheese oaties.
- Makes around 20 to 25 x 7cm round oatcakes.
Sounds gorgeous! I really like the toasting the oatmeal idea.
Hey Caroline – I’m in the habit of toasting oatmeal as an addition to fruit & yoghurt for breakfast, so the idea came from there. I definitely need to remember to make oatcakes more often – simple, good stuff.
You are always off on such delicious jaunts. GREG
I do it so that I can bring a little bit of the world beyond LA to you. You know that Greg, don’t you? :)
Looks like such a wonderful place! I just love those photos of the breakfast and the source. Nothing compares to a meal like that to start your day.
All that marvelous food on just one island? I’ll be right over . . . The denizens of Arran have good reason to proudly display the island’s name on their products – you noted that they’ve created a true cooperative of resources to produce said marvelous food.
Cheese oaties sound sooooo good . . .
Arran has been on my list of places to visit for a while.originally not for food reasons.purely natural beauty and the fact that it is an island which always fascinates me. When I finally make it there I will certainly have more things to look out for now. It was certainly great to follow you on Twitter, and to read the full adventures has been great. I’d have never thought that such a small place would have all these products.amazing!
Lori: I’d be happy to start with a breakfast like that any day!
Tangled Noodle: do visit if you can sometime (and remember to pick me up on the way!) – you’ll be glad to hear that Wooleys make cheese oaties and they are very good….
Valentina: Thanks so much for following along! It’s certainly worth visiting Arran for some of its scenery alone but (as I discovered) there’s a lot more to it (and a lot of that is edible, which is even better in my book!)
So great to learn about this wonderful island! Those oatcakes look scrumptious!
I’m back to US & back to blogging. Starting my travel posts with Greece right now, Dublin to follow very soon!
Hey Natasha – glad to hear you’re back safe and back to blogging. You’ll have to put Scotland on your list of places to visit (as well as coming back to Ireland of course :) ) I still haven’t managed to write up our meeting yet (tsk) – I had an idea about trying to recreate that fish pie – may take me a little while to get there! Looking forward to reading your Dublin travel post.
what a nice recipe – always looking at new ways of getting oats into myself!
Oh look at these lovely wee oaties! Delicious looking – as does all of your Arran food. Yum!
Lucy: hey, thanks – always happy to oblige when it comes to things oaty :)
Aoife Mc: Yum indeed :) I am now coming over all hungry for some oaties and cheese – must see what the cupboards hold!
looks so delicious!
Hello! I just found your blog when searching foodgawker.com
These oatcakes look wonderful and I have all of the ingredients. I was wondering…is there any way to convert the recipe to cups etc… I don’t have a kitchen scale!
Paula: thank you :)
Sonia: Hi there – thanks for dropping in to visit. I’m always a little wary of cup measurements (don’t know where I’d be without my kitchen scale!) but try the following: 2.25 cups rolled oats; 1.5 cups wheat bran; 0.75 cups to 1.25 cups just boiled water; hope that helps!
We bumped into your blog and we really liked it – great recipes YUM YUM.
We would like to add it to the Petitchef.com.
We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
enjoy your recipes.
Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
and benefit from their exposure on Petitchef.com.
To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use http://en.petitchef.com/?obj=front&action=site_ajout_form or just go to Petitchef.com and click on “Add your site”
Such an awesome way to kick start your morning with oats. Love the healthy foods. Thanks for sharing :)
These oatcakes look delicious. I am gonna make these next weekend. Thanks!