Saturday, 7 January 2012


or oatbreads, or flatbreads....
 The other morning I decided the cold weather warranted some oatmeal for breakfast. I decided to make a larger batch than usual, and experiment a bit.

 My preference is for steel-cut oats rather than rolled oats. It's a more time-consuming process to prepare them, and it is an entirely different result, but I like the flavour very much. Because Darrell enjoys fruit in his oatmeal, I added a small bit to the batch, a very small handful of dried cherries, dried cranberries and currants. I also added a very tiny bit of honey towards the end of the cooking process. I'm not wildly fond of honey, but it is a period sweetener. (if you don't live in Viking Age Iceland!)

 So after we'd eaten our breakfast or brunch, I had leftover oatmeal to try things with.

When I had been preparing food for the period of time we'd be working at L'Anse aux Meadows, Nfld in 2010, I had made a number of wheaten flatbreads and dried them for the trip. Towards the end of the ten day period, I'd made some fresh flatbreads each day before leaving the cabins where we were staying. I've baked bread at period encampments previously, but we were working in a 'borrowed' environment as guest interpreters, and it was simpler to avoid some of the messier food prep on-site if possible.

 But during the original test period of the interpretive program, back in 1996 I'd made flatbreads on-site. In those days I could even share them with the visitors!
 So, I was wondering about possible variations of method that would work for this and other presentations, as well as encampments for ourselves.

 I took my leftover oatmeal and added flour only, mostly oat flour, but then a bit of wheat flour as well. (I have to go further afield than locally to buy specialty flours, so I tend to hoard my small stores for moments that count most.) Eventually I ended up with an only slightly sticky dough, which I patted into small flat cakes. These I cooked gently in a flat pan over a medium heat. (It's winter, we have snow. It's harder to cook over a fire without more involved planning!)
 The results were very appealing. Slightly moist and chewy, and the faint sweetness of the moderate amount of fruit made them quite appealing, though not something that would be jarring with a savoury dish.

 We also took two last cakes (the rest were eaten already) and put them to dry on our woodstove. They eventually dried to something very hard and tile-like, which will probably keep quite well, though would want moistening to eat.

 My next experiment came about because I wondered if one could achieve more or less the same results by soaking the oat mixtures over night, rather than cooking them, and making the cakes from leftovers. Leftover oatmeal into oat cakes certainly has a history in the more modern past, and could conceivably have been done earlier, but in that situation, possibly a leftover gruel of oats would just continue to be eaten as a gruel of oats till none was left.
 However, softening oats towards making a bread or cake might be more plausible.

 I tried setting up two different experiments. In one I used modern rolled oats, since that is something many modern re-enactors might have access to, and for many occasions, especially depending on the amount of time one can devote to the project, modern oats would be quick and easy. In the other batch I took oat groats and ground some to flour (unexpectedly. My flour-milling implement appears to be full of gusto. Next time I'll try merely crushing some groats with a rolling pin...) and blended those with some whole groats.

 Both batches were set to soak overnight with water and a little salt.

 The next day I blended both mixtures with some flour, just wheat flour this time, to a consistency where I could pat them into cake shapes. I made them thinner this time because I was also interested in how easily I could take them to a dried storable state.

 Both methods yielded a similar type of cake. Obviously oat groats have a softer hull than some other grains, which is nice to know. Quite probably gently crushing them would be sufficient to allow the water to penetrate their hulls and soften them for a cake. I did miss the flavour that the dried fruits had given them: I'd want to experiment with some herbs on another occasion. And on the whole I prefer them in their chewier state, even if fully drying them made them last better. I think that the simplicity of making them on-site would outweigh the make-ahead aspect.
 But definitely something to play with in a camp setting!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A New Year

 Far too much passage of time. Without cooking. Without blogging about cooking.

 Even trying to fill some of the gap with the odd post about Victorian life wasn't really satisfactory. It certainly didn't fill my need for cooking, and only gave me a little exercise in researching. Quickly. And I'm not sure it was even starting to be helpful to my friends involved in the Victorian living experiment. It's more than likely that the aspects of such a project that *I* would fixate on are not at all what they're thinking about. :)
 Ah well. Quel surprise!

 I've often noticed that everyone has their own variations on even the obsessions we share!

 So, I had an unexpectedly busy fall. And actually it was a fairly unexpectedly busy year. I kept thinking there were inherent gaps, but somehow I never seemed to be in the middle of any of them. Part of this isn't helped by living an hour away from where I often work. Even quick, small jobs get travel time added on top....

 But definitely life has been very much back-to-back since September. And I've felt the lack of food time. A lot.
 So, there are a number of projects I need to look at. Some I need to re-look at, because I'd played with them a bit, made a few notes, but not written about them. And now I'm not quite sure what I remember, so I need to do them again. (Well, I needed to try some of them multiple times anyway...)
 And now I have some new things to plan for, and some new ideas to think about and some different things I want to try.

 And I may actually have a few minutes to do it in!

 So I started a small experiment today. An off-the-cuff, no special planning kind of experiment, which of course, just gives me a whole list of where I have to go next....

 Stay tuned, Bat Fans...