More about bere, and another recipe today! Essential to my beremeal experiments has been the acquisition of a cast-iron girdle (as it is known in Scots), also called a griddle or bakestone in England and Wales. We purchased one of the “hanging” variety from Oakden, though we don’t have an open fire, but a modern induction hob (on which it works really well). Having used it in our everyday cooking for about a year, we’ve found the girdle is absolutely brilliant for the scones and bannocks I like to make, as well as the flatbreads Tom cooks to accompany a curry. If buying a girdle, you need to follow the maker’s instructions and ensure you season it properly before its first use. Once your girdle is seasoned, away you go!
In eighteenth-century Edinburgh, a remarkable 50 different types of tea bread were said to be baked, and in her Scots Kitchen (1929) F Marion MacNeill includes recipes for quite a few of these old girdle-fired varieties: bannocks, crumpets, farls, rolls, and drop scones (which, where I grew up were called Scotch pancakes, and with which I developed a strange obsession: my pocket money would stretch to the purchase of 6 of these delicacies from the counter at Rochdale’s Littlewoods on a Saturday morning, and I’d greedily scoff the lot). In eighteenth-century Scotland, such homely baked goods would have routinely been made on a girdle with beremeal, and if you want to try experimenting with bere yourself, you might start as I’ve done by simply substituting a quarter to a third of your usual wheat flour with bere in your favourite scone and bannock recipes.
In recent years, Welsh cakes have taken the place of Scotch pancakes as my own wee baked treat of choice: these are neither bannocks, nor scones, nor drop scones, but quite their own thing entirely and their particular old-fashioned flavour combination of currants and nutmeg makes them (to me) uniquely delicious. Welsh cakes are definitely best cooked on a girdle or bakestone, and I’ve found that the addition of beremeal makes them really tasty. In Welsh, bere is is haidd garw (coarse barley), and, if you use a small pastry cutter, you can get 16 wee girdle cakes out of the following recipe.
Haidd Garw girdle cakes
170g / 6 oz self raising flour
55g / 2 oz beremeal (or spelt flour)
114g / 4 oz butter, cold.
85g / 3 oz golden caster sugar
55 g / 2 oz currants
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp baking powder
1 egg (beaten)
1 tsp – tbsp milk (as necessary)
extra butter for the girdle.
Grease and prepare the girdle on a medium heat.
Rub butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the spices, baking powder, sugar, and then the currants. Add the egg and, with a cold table knife, mix, adding a little milk if necessary, to form a rough dough with a similar hand to that of shortcrust pastry.
When the mixture starts to come together, do not knead, but bring the dough gently together with your hands, then press down on a floured surface to ½ cm / ¼in thickness and cut into rounds with a small pastry cutter.
Place on girdle at medium heat for 4-5 minutes each side (until nicely browned).
Welsh cakes are traditionally sprinkled with sugar, but I think these are sweet enough!
Eat warm (if you can!)