Oatcakes and the origin of species

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, which means some small part of Michelle’s DNA demands recognition. Exactly which part is unclear, since her Kentucky lineage includes all sorts of pale folk from various areas of both Ierne and Albion who spent the past few centuries emigrating, intermixing and occasionally dallying with Native Americans for an extra bit of “flava.” Nonetheless, like many Americans, Michelle feels obligated to act Irish in mid-March—even though she disdains whiskey, seldom fights and is mostly unfamiliar with peat bogs.

While her inner leprechaun may have demanded a blog post, Michelle’s other chunks of genetic drift resisted the easy path of corned beef. (Though of dubious origins as a St. Patrick’s Day feast, it must be said that Steve can corn a mean beef.) Instead she turned to Darina Allen and found a recipe for oatcakes. These sturdy little biscuits make a nutty, rustic platform for cheeses, in this case a lovely Welsh (another gene strand Michelle probably possesses) Caerphilly cheese made in the Lexington, KY area, and fig jam.

This March 17th, as you’re foaming up your Guinness and looking for your Pogues album, you might consider adding a few oatcakes. And if you see Michelle, give her a pinch—she’ll most likely not be wearing green.

Great-grandparents-to-be, Mary Sullivan and Thomas Smith. They were Irish, I tell you. Irish! (OK, fine. Her parents and his grandparents were…)


  • Servings: about 24 two-inch crackers
  • Print

(adapted from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking)

  • 1-1/2 c. stone-ground oatmeal*
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/8 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 TB melted lard (or butter)
  • Boiling water

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Put dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Add melted lard and enough boiling water (it took just over 1/2 c. for us) to make a firm dough.

Roll dough out on a floured counter, thinly.  Cut with a circular cookie or biscuit cutter.  Arrange on cookie sheets.  They don’t spread, so can be placed close together.

Bake 25-30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

*Allen recommends Macroom stone-ground oatmeal, which we didn’t have.  We did have some McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal. Thinking it looked a bit coarser than the photos of the Macroom product, we buzzed it in the food processor for a bit.  It seemed to work fine.



    • Nor in Steve’s! These aren’t as crumbly as the ones I love in the Carr’s assortment box, but they are really good. Next time, I might tart them up with rosemary and fleur de sel. (Not authentic, I know. But, I gather, neither are the Pogues!)

  1. Fabulous post, beautifully written and illustrated as usual. The picture of Mary and Thomas is wonderful. I’m in the midst of editing and designing my sister’s book on our family history, so I’ve been working with similar pictures all day.

    • So kind! We did a similar project (just a little iPhoto picture book) about Steve’s Italian side a couple of years back as a gift for his aunt and it was such fun. The photos seem so exotic to me as their immigrant experience was so much closer in time than my family’s.

  2. This is great! I shall be making these and adding them to my St. Patty’s menu (along with brown bread, irish butter and smoked salmon; meat pies; and corned beef). Slainté!

  3. Yummy, yummy, yummy. I love oatcakes and cheese. They are actually really hard to find in New York, and I am really looking forward to making them!

    I have some lard in the fridge that seems destined for this purpose!

  4. Oh goodness…these will be made today at The Smith Homestead. And eaten with lots of local cheese and quince paste (my favorite). Thanks for the lovely post and recipe. Happy Friday fellow Kentuckians~ its a gorgeous one out there!

    • They are, aren’t they? Interesting article in today’s New York Times, saying it’s not about the Irish. It’s just about celebrating the immigrant experience.

  5. I know — I just KNOW you used lard instead of any other type of shortening and GOOD ON YOU I say. I love the culinary possibilities of animal fat! The next horizon I have to conquer is suet, which still intimidates me because it is so STINKY. These oatcakes look tasty and the photo is wonderful. (I should say the photos are wonderful — I love that your great-grandparents are posed on a log in a field.

    • Ha, ha, ha. Not only did I use lard. I used lard that Steve rendered from a pig raised by someone we know! (I haven’t ever used suet either. Except in a bird feeder.)

  6. quilt32

    I enjoyed this post so much – unfortunately, too late for St. Patrick’s Day but I’m still going to try the oat cakes.

    I used suet once in a plum pudding. Not bad to work with at all.

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for introducing me to yours.

  7. These look delicious. The perfect means of transportation for some fabulous cheese. I wish so much we could have made it to Ballymaloe when we visited Cork last year. I adore Rachel Allen and would have loved to have seen some of her and Darina’s work. Fortunately, it just means I have to go back.

  8. These looked incredibly tantalizing, but what really intrigues me is the use of lard. Does it just affect the texture–say, the way great leaf lard does in a pie crust–or is there a “porky” element in the flavor? Great forebears photo. Thanks. Ken

    • Steve

      Our rendering from friend Bob’s pigs produced two kinds of lard: a mild white and a more “porky” brown. We used the white in these, so it really was more about the texture than the taste—though now I’m tempted to revisit them with the brown!

  9. Wonderful post! We’re off to Ireland in May. There’s no way I can get my hands on stoneground/ steel-cut anything here, but we can buy rolled oats. Do you think these would work? I LOVE oatcakes!

  10. This is so great. I love the whole thing, especially the “flava.” No doubt my Fitzpatrick relatives were similar! And I must make me some oat cakes.

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