Sunday, 7 December 2008


"a quarter pound of butter
a quarter pound of sugar
three tablespoons of golden treacle
one teaspoon of almond extract
and half a pound of oats

I call it my mother's recipe, though she may have copied it from somewhere; she was always copying down a recipe. But this one was not cut from a magazine, or copied from a newspaper, as she did, by rubbing wax paper over newsprint to collect the words and then rubbing the wax paper on a page of the scrapbook, transferring all those little black newsprint letters. This recipe was in her handwriting: "Melt butter, sugar and treacle, and add essence. Take off the fire, add oats. Mix well, pour into a greased baking dish, and bake in an oven with a moderate fire for half an hour. Let cool. Cut into squares."

"Add essence." By this she meant "add almond extract," but when she made oatcakes she did add essence, her own essence. When I made oatcakes, they didn't taste anything like my mother's, though I followed my mother's recipe to the letter. They tasted good enough, but they tasted of my essence, not my mother's. There are no two cooks that can make the same dish; you'll find that essence in one and not the other. Or the essence in each is just different. I don't know. But you'll know the essence of a good cook when you find it in a dish. You'll just know. It was there in my mother's cooking. My father knew it. He'd eat the oatcakes my mother made, but not the oatcakes I made."

From "The Cure for Death by Lightning" by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.


Mo said...

What a strange coincidence!

I've been obsessively working on a recipe almost exactly like this for over a month now. I've been trying to re-create my mother's "flapjacks" (as these oatmeal bars are called in England) from memory.

I must try the almond extract. Maybe that's what I've been missing.

Still, I'm completely addicted to the ones I've been making.

The recipe I use is more like:

half a cup of butter
quarter cup of sugar
quarter cup cane syrup (i use Lyle's)
Two and a half cups quick oats.

quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
one tablespoon of peanut butter
quarter cup toasted sunflower seeds

Melt butter, sugar, syrup and peanut butter together. Add vanilla, sunflower seeds. Add oats. Mix thoroughly. Turn into a small baking pan. Press flat. Bake for 30 minutes at 325F.

Remove from pan when edges look a little singed and top looks deep golden brown.

Cool slightly and cut into squares while still a little warm.

If you baked these long enough they'll be amazingly crisp, shattering into your mouth with every bite.

Ferdzy said...

Yes, I've made them too. They're a popular recipe in North America as well, although a 'flapjack' here is a kind of thick pancake or crepe. I've got my own recipe which is a little different yet again - although still basically the same thing.