27/2/2016 0 Comments
I was volunteered to prepare an activity about the flag of the United Kingdom at an upcoming Cub Scout meeting. I was surprised at a few elements of it's history.
As a clever reader, you are probably aware the Union Flag (or surprisingly the Union Jack as it can be known, even if not being flown at sea), comprises stylised representations of the flags or satires (diagonal crosses) of the countries in the Union.
Since Richard I declared in 1194 that England's flag would be the red St Georges Cross on a white background.
By 1606, although still different countries, England and Scotland did share the same monarch - James I of England, James VI of Scotland - so the decision was made to design a flag to be used on shipping which was a combined effort at the time.
They took the Scottish flag (the St Andrew's Saltire - the diagonal cross)
and the English Flag (the St George's Cross) to produce the first Union Flag.
The white border around the red cross is there for heraldic reasons to separate the colours.
With the 1707 Act of Union, Queen Anne declared that the Union Flag be used both at sea and on land - as by this act England and Scotland were united under the monarch and one parliament.
In 1801 Great Britain enlarged to include Ireland so a new flag reflecting this was required.
The St Patrick Satire was therefore incorporated to represent Ireland.
This was done with an offset which in heraldic terms is known as "counterchanging".
This means that the Union Flag is not actually symmetrical.
The flag was not changed when Ireland split to form the Republic and Northern Ireland in 1921. Only Northern Ireland remains in the United Kingdom
So, Dear Reader here is the question.
Why does no Welsh elements appear on the Union Flag?
The United Kingdom does comprise England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Well, when the first Union Flag was created in 1606, Wales had been united with England since the 13th century. This meant that it's status was actually a Principality and not Kingdom.
As such, it could not be included.
A notification on Facebook got me thinking that some years ago, on my old web site I had written a page waxing lyrical about one of (probably my absolute) favourite local British foodstuff.
I have dug through my laptop and found the words which I wrote but alas the original pictures have been lost in a black hole somewhere.
Sadly, Oatcake shops are very few on the ground now - even the site of the famous "Hole In The Wall" has been redeveloped, but there are still some around if you search.
Here is that web page with some fresh images.
Ode To The Oatcake
While clearing out some old tax papers, bank statements, credit card and utility bills I came across a page torn from The Sunday Times magazine back in late 1991 (from what I can deduce).
This folded page is unusual in that it is a tribute to what some of us consider to be a great delicacy. Others say they are too rich. Even some sons of Lichfield folk have decreed that they are foul and a piece of bread is preferable.
In my opinion, they are possibly one of the most versatile and unknown foods, which are very hard to find anywhere south of Uttoxeter or north of Newcastle-under-Lyme.
A local supermarket once stocked them down here in the South of England, but although they were usually sold out before I could get any, I was told that they no longer have them - shame on them.
What is this food ?
The North Staffordshire Oatcake
(a.k.a "The Tunstall Tortilla" or the "Potteries Papadam"
"Oatcakes", people say, "I like those" and therein lies the confusion.
These are not the dreadful, dry, hardboard-like Scottish biscuits.
The North Staffordshire Oatcake is succulent and in my personal view still best served as a savoury snack or as part of a full breakfast or brunch with bacon, eggs and cheese.
My Aunt Jean has served oatcakes as a Lasagne style meal (using them to replace the pasta sheets).
They are simply superb.
If you happen upon an Oatcake shop - there is one in Cheadle, another in Leek, Hanley and a few others scattered around - do not squander the chance to see the delicacies coming off the bakestone and trying them for yourselves.
Here is a transcript of the original article from the Sunday Times:
Ode To The Oatcake
Report: Philip Oakes
What divides Britain - more surely than accent or class or even the cash flow - is where you can find the Staffordshire oatcake. To my knowledge it has never been sighted north of Blackburn or south of Rugby. Its natural habitat is the Potteries, once the black heart of the Midlands, where bottle ovens belched smoke as thick as gravy and food was heavy not only with carbohydrates but with a morality that announced itself in maxims.
In my mother's house, the favourite text was "Waste not, want not", with "Plain living and high thinking" coming a close second. Without hesitation, she decreed that bread was Good. So was porridge. So was home-made soup with its ballast of lentils and pearl barley, its surface beaded with fat. I asked her what it was that winked in my soup and she instantly told me: "Goodness".
Oatcakes were undeniably Good, but they were a luxury. I should explain. A Staffordshire oatcake is nothing like its Scottish cousin. It is not a parched and gritty biscuit, but a moist pancake, made with a batter of oatmeal and yeast.
In his Ode to the Oatcake, Arthur Berry, the Potteries artist and poet, describes it fondly, warts and all:
As flat and thin as a dishcloth
An obedient and suppliant cheek
That will bend any way you want it
Round and floppy, the oatcake
Has texture similar to the skins of old colliers or men
Dying of potter's rot
Don't let the poetic license put you off. The oatcake is delicious, eaten hot or cold, the perfect accompaniment to all fried food, stuffed with bacon or grated cheese, spread with honey or, quite simply, running with melted butter.
I've seen it dismissed as a variation on the Greek pitta or Breton crêpe. But there is no comparison. The Staffordshire original is not just a wrap-round but an entity; a delicacy in its own right.
Exiles yearn for it.
When I was in my teens, I first moved to London, my mother sent me parcels of oatcakes, limp and weighty, anonymous in brown paper. What she was telling me, I suspect, was that I should never have left home and the message was spelled out in oatmeal.
When I was a boy we always had oatcakes for breakfast on winter Sunday mornings. They were not considered to be a summer food ("They over-heat the blood", explained my mother) and from April to September we did without. But the first fogs of autumn signalled an end to the waiting. As dusk fell on Saturday evening (street lamps lit, the paper-boy on the corner shouting the match results), I was despatched to the oatcake shop. Chain bakeries sold oatcakes six days a week. So, bizarrely, did some butchers' shops. But the best oatcake makers - those perfectionists who made nothing else - restricted themselves to three days only, the run-up to the weekend. For the rest of the week their doors were locked, their blinds drawn.
The shop we patronised was in the mining village of Smallthorne, not far from the knacker's yard where we sometimes went ratting. The bottom of its bow window was level with my eyes and I would stand there in the dusk for an hour at a time, watching the oatcakes being made.
On the far side of the shop the oatcake man measured oatmeal, flour and milk and water into tall white jugs. He added salt and yeast and when the mixture had risen he would cross over to his bakestone, a black iron plate which sent waves of heat shimmering to the ceiling and pour out 12 liquid pats which would spread and sizzle on the metal. Bubbles bulged and burst. The mouth-watering smell of toasted oatmeal seeped under the door and into the street and as the edges turned crisp and golden he would flip them over to cook the other side. When they were done he would stack them in a tender, tottering pile beside the bakestone and start on the next batch. As always, I bought 12. The oatcake man wrapped them in tissue paper and I bore them home, clasped to my chest like a hot and fragrant poultice.
Fifty years on, the great Staffordshire love affair with the oatcake endures. The product, though, seems to have meandered upmarket. At the Victoria Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, they sell them as bar snacks (chicken and chutney is a favourite filling), and when I last visited the Potteries my hotel advertised something called a Potter's Breakfast. It comprised oatcakes stuffed with grated cheese and washed down with half a bottle of champagne. Not even the tourists were buying.
What is strange is that the oatcake has never caught on outside Staffordshire. Food writers have tried to spread the word. Jane Grigson was a fan. So is Susan Campbell, who wrote about in her English Cookery (Consumers' Association and Hodder & Stoughton). But, despite their gospelling, it remains a local treat.
We make our own, using this recipe:
225g (8oz) fine oatmeal
225g (8oz) plain flour
2 tsp salt
400ml (¾pt) milk
400ml (¾pt) water
15g (½oz) fresh yeast (or half quantity dried)
Lard for frying
Mix the oatmeal, flour and salt in a large bowl. Warm the milk and water together to blood heat. Cream the yeast with a little of the warm liquid. When it froths stir into the flour and oatmeal with the remaining liquid. This will be runny; don't worry.
Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave the mixture to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in bulk. Make the oatcakes like pancakes, using a frying pan, large or small (larger pans make thinner oatcakes) and frying each side for about three or four minutes or until they are golden. Stack within a folded cloth.
To reheat, pile them on one plate, cover with another and put in a moderate oven. They will emerge hot and steamy. Wrapped in a slightly damp tea towel and put in a cool place, they will keep for a week.
Ours rarely last that long, which - according to Arthur Berry - is just as well. His ode advises that oatcakes should only be eaten two or three times a week:
Such richness every day would be too much
Rather like having the News of the World
Delivered as a morning paper
What's more, he adds:
These cakes can play the very
Devil with your waistline
I must WARN !
Leads to BULGENCE
Live dangerously. Try them and see.