Tuesday, January 20, 2015


         With only five days to go until Burns Night is here, it seems time to get started on making some crafts and decorations that will get your guests into the spirit of things. Let me start by saying I find much of the craft and decorating projects that fill Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate to be a little over the top. If I’m planning a holiday meal or throwing a birthday party I’m usually much more inclined to consider food, drinks, and presents than things like floral arrangements or place cards. That’s where Middleton and I really part ways. Not plan a lavish and coordinated table? She just won’t have it.

For something like Burns Night, though, I think I get it. There’s nothing about our condo that screams SCOTTISH, you know? You’re not just going to walk in and get that vibe here. To commit to a holiday that is already such a stretch for us maybe does require a little bit of extra effort. Below, what Middleton says about setting “A Scottish Table”:

For a Burns Night supper, choose a warm and romantic place for your table: a fireside spot is welcoming and the amber glow will complement the earthy components of the feast.

Our dining room table is four feet from the radiator. It’s very warm!

If you’re having a more informal gathering in your kitchen, you’ll still need plenty of flickering candlelight on this cold January night to make everyone feel as if you were all tucked up inside a croft in the depths of the Scottish hills.

Yes, but what is a croft?

Thistles are emblematic of Scotland and ideal for a centerpiece, mixed with purple and white poppy anemones and green foliage. Arranged in a small vase, they will add a lovely feminine touch to this rather masculine affair.

Thistles? Really? Where might one buy thistles in Chicago in the winter? Hell, in the summer?

Use…old bone-handled knives in keeping with the Highland theme.

“Honey? Where did we put the bone-handled knives? No—not those! The old ones!”

Middleton seems to sense at one point that not everyone is willing to drop $500 and a week’s vacation time from work just to get this holiday off the ground. For people like me she points out that “a tartan blanket laid over a table will add snugness and be fitting for a hearty spread for all ages.”
                Of course: tartan. We need tartan. I can tell you with confidence that one of the best places in the world, outside of Scotland, to buy fabric is at the Highland Store in London. There are two convenient locations and a website for easy international shopping. Should you not have the time or income to travel to Scotland or London, brace yourself. You’re going to have to go to Joann Fabrics like I did on Sunday. I emerged, frustrated, an hour later with a terrible green and white plaid I can't really defend now. While I was there I really built up this idea that I was selecting our family tartan, and it felt like an incredible weight on my shoulders. I could not get it wrong! Maybe it was just too much pressure because what I came home with looks like a cross between the placemats Adam used to have in his apartment senior year of college and a Yasser Arafat headscarf. I spent Sunday night cutting our family tartan into four small napkins and a kind of table runner-like thing. When I laid it on our dining room table and fully saw just how awful it looked, I felt both exhausted and dejected. There wasn’t supposed to be so much pressure with this holiday!
                Tonight I’m having a hard time flipping through Middleton’s Burns Night how-to because she’s managed to snag a lovely purple and green blanket to lay over her table. There are even plaid plates to match. She's located thistles for her centerpiece as well as teacups with thistles on the side. She’s nailed it. This girl will just have to keep trying.

                Next up: what to feed your American guests on Burns Night. Hint: not haggis.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


             It was almost exactly this time last year when, for the very first time in my life, I heard about Burns Night. It was January 25th actually (Author’s Note: January 25th is Burns Night) when I cracked open Pippa Middleton’s much-roasted Celebrate to get some recipe ideas for the week ahead. If you’re not familiar with Celebrate, let me explain that the book is divided by season into various events and holidays that the heir of a British family that has made its fortune selling party supplies believes to be worth celebrating. Burns Night falls just after Christmas and New Year’s and before Valentine’s Day. Let’s turn it over to Middleton for a moment:

Burns Night is the culmination of the Scottish winter festivals…It celebrates the life and work of Robert Burns, widely regarded as Scotland’s national poet…The format of the celebration largely depends on what you want to make of it: a black-tie affair that includes all the pomp of the night with bagpiping, toasts, speeches, and dancing, or a simple supper (perhaps a Highland tea) at home with friends and family accompanied by a few poems from the Scottish bard’s work.
              Despite not being much of a Burns fan and only being Scotch-Irish (it’s not really the same) I was immediately sold on our foursome celebrating this holiday. “Listen up, gang,” I yelled down the hallway of our condo. “There’s been a change in plans. It’s Burns Night.”

Deciding it’s time to get ready to celebrate a holiday when it’s the morning of the actual holiday requires kind of a frenzied pace. We spent the rest of the day gathering groceries for pseudo-Scottish food, buying whiskey at the liquor store, digging through our linen closet for something plaid to use as a table runner (a baby blanket my sister made for Nathan would have to do), and putting a delicious batch of millionaire’s shortbread into the oven around midday.

              Admittedly we flubbed up this holiday. We always will, and that’s for a few obvious reasons:

1.)    We’re Americans.
2.)    We were completely unwilling to eat haggis, which must be served on this evening. There is even a toast to the haggis. We still couldn’t stomach the idea of eating this meat mixture that contains a sheep’s heart and kidneys and is, frankly, served in an old stomach.
3.)    We don’t have anyone to play the bagpipes. We did, however, listen to BBC Radio Scotland on my laptop while we ate, and I would argue that was quite nice.
4.)    We remain only rainy-day fans of Robert Burns, who is the whole point of this evening.

And now you must be thinking, Why celebrate this thing, Chels? And all I know to answer is that I love celebrating this holiday. I adore it. Maybe it’s because we’ve just juggled Thanksgiving and Christmas, and no one is calling me saying, “When are you getting here on Burns Night? We really need to plan this thing.” I don’t feel any pressure about it. On Burns Night last year we just did our own crazy thing, and it felt lovely and wonderful. It’s this feeling I’m trying to impart on you. That’s why this week on the blog it’s BURNS NIGHT WEEK. I’m planning on multiple posts because there’s too much material here to cram into a single post. Next up? Burns Night Crafts.

Yes, I know how that sounds.

Where to buy: You can purchase Pippa Middleton’s Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Family and Friends (2012) on Amazon. My lovely friend Lexa gave me my copy.

Friday, January 2, 2015


I think one of the reasons I’m so unhappy being a Chicagoan is because the second New Year’s Day is over I’m ready for it to be spring. Crazy right? Winter just started two weeks ago! Yesterday we returned our Christmas decorations to the basement, and today I found myself shopping for pink tulips at the grocery store and laying out yellow and white-striped placemats on our dining room table.

Maybe that yearning for spring is why I felt so drawn to Jamie Oliver’s recipe for a roast chicken salad tossed with green beans blanched just until they’re vibrant green and crunchy, alongside chopped flat leaf parsley and scallions. At the same time the “salad” features roast chicken, bacon, garlic, and big croutons you make by tossing pieces of crusty bread with olive oil and the chicken juices. The end product is comfort food fit for winter matched with vivid green spring vegetables—the best of both worlds.

This salad provided bread-tearing and green bean-snapping work for little boys’ bored hands (daycare is closed until Monday, after all) and looked like a great big bellwether of spring when I put it on a Tiffany blue platter and laid it on our dining room table.

I’ve adapted Oliver’s recipe for the salad dressing, just a bit, by including royal warrant holder Colman’s mustard. I also used a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store to simplify things. It’s good enough for Rick Bayless, after all. Certainly you could roast your own with lots of fresh thyme, lemon, and olive oil.


1 small rotisserie chicken
Olive oil, for drizzling chicken 
Sea salt and pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
14 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bulb of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
½ loaf French bread
6 pieces of bacon
½ lb. green beans, trimmed
Fresh flat-leaf parsley
6 green onions

5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Colman’s mustard
Apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the cooked chicken in a 13 x 9 pan with garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt, pepper, and fresh thyme. Place in oven for 10 minutes (just to heat up the chicken and get some of the chicken juices in with the garlic and tomatoes). Meanwhile, tear French bread into bite-sized pieces and snip green beans. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch green beans for 5-6 minutes. Set aside.

Remove heated chicken from the pan and set aside to cool slightly.

To the roasting garlic and tomatoes, add bite-sized pieces of bread. Mix with the chicken juices, olive oil, and garlic and add more thyme and salt and pepper, if desired. Place uncooked slices of bacon across this mixture and return to the oven until the bread is crisp and the bacon is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop parsley (about ¼ cup) and slice green onions. Shred the chicken and add it to the green beans on your serving platter. To this add the bread, bacon, cherry tomatoes, and garlic. Top with green onions and parsley.

To make the dressing, whisk olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard, and a small drizzle of honey together. Oliver’s recipe uses such precise measurements as 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil and “a few good swigs of cider vinegar.” He’s right, though—keep tweaking it until you like the taste of it. We served this mustardy vinaigrette on the side of our salad. Adam, who is no friend of mustard, topped his with a balsamic glaze. I tiptoed into it and found it absolutely made the salad, which we served with big glasses of Twining's English breakfast iced tea. (Is there any other kind?)

Where to buy: This recipe comes from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain, sold on Amazon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Since I began this blog two years ago, the list of 800 or so royal warrant holders has stayed remarkably stable. That’s why I find it jarring when I notice there’s been some movement on the list. The members of the royal family may be traditional to the extreme, but even they are capable of embracing an out with the old/in with the new attitude at times. In 1999 cigarette manufacturer Benson & Hedges quietly lost its warrant because the royal family felt it unseemly to endorse tobacco products. For reasons much less clear, Carr’s—a warrant holder for more than 150 years—just lost its warrant in 2012.

Right away it seems necessary to defend why I’m writing about a company that lost its warrant. If they’re off the list, why bother? To that question I answer: 1.) I’ve also written about a Dog Show, vegetables, and formal warrant holder Hamleys on this site and 2.) I didn’t realize when I bought these crackers that Carr’s had lost its warrant. It strikes me as a waste of money if I don’t come up with something to say about them.

Per the Carr’s website, this brand was founded by Jonathan Carr, who opened a bakery in Carlisle, England in 1831. Just 10 years later, remarkably, Queen Victoria awarded the bakery a royal warrant, which Carr’s held continuously since 2012. Carr’s today makes a whole line of thin little grown-up crackers just begging to be opened at a fancy party. The table water crackers I bought were a little blah without cheese or something fun to pair them with, but the rosemary and poppy & sesame flavors are lovely on their own.

As I navigated around on the Carr’s website I was surprised to find it in disrepair. The “Special Offers” and “Recipes” sections ask visitors to “check back soon,” and the “Where to Buy” section is unviewable because of errors.

But the crackers haven’t changed, right? Why would the royal family suddenly stop eating them? An article that ran in Carlisle's Cumberland News in March 2012 stated the official word from Buckingham Palace is that “changing tastes” in the household dictated this move. But who suddenly stops eating crackers? Did they also stop using toilet paper and drinking milk? Something isn’t adding up here.

My theory was that Carr’s being bought-out by United Biscuits (which owns fellow royal warrant holder brand McVitie’s) could have something to do with this. For other possibilities, let’s turn our attention to the “Have Your Say” section of the Cumberland News. People indeed had a lot to say here, even if 85% was, arguably, not on point:

used to love these in Shetland in the '80's, so I thought I'd treat myself to a bit of nostalgia... what on earth has happened to them? you used to get about a dozen to a box, now they're paper thin and nowhere near as nice. Sorry Carrs, but did you lose the Royal Warrant when you went wafer thin?
Posted by Philip Young on 29 January 2013

My father worked at Carr's of Carlisle after the war,and Carrs water biscuits are top of our table here in NZ, they are the best water crackers on the NZ market, with a glass of wine and NZ cheese the best of British! So sorry to here of the lose please maintain quality
My brother Alan Scott also worked in the printing Dept in the late 50's
Posted by Syd Scott on 6 January 2013

They were probably dropped from Royal patronage because they competed with Charles Duchy biscuits. Fact is, Carrs water biscuits are the best in the world by far, of their type. With any cheese - absolutely delicious.
Posted by Chris W on 6 January 2013

We’ll leave the last word to a Mrs. D Paris, who had these strong feelings about the crackers:

Well, they still have my seal of approval. They are delicious, no other savoury biscuit comes anywhere near. If the Palace no longer buys them, then that says a lot about declining standards in the royal household.
Long may they flourish.
Posted by Mrs D Paris on 19 August 2012

While losing a warrant might temporarily sideline some businesses, Carr’s decided not to take this slight lying down. United Biscuits complied with royal wishes and removed the Queen’s coat of arms from their crackers’ packaging but at the same time opted to replace it with the coat of arms of the city of Carlisle. Per the packaging, United Biscuits went so far as to enter into a trademark licensing agreement with the city of Carlisle in order to use this symbol. To the undistinguished eye (read: mine, when I grabbed a package at the store the other day), the packaging didn’t change much.

I guess I could be annoyed that I was duped into buying the Carr’s, but it honestly didn’t bother me. I wish I could say the same for the fair-skinned, blue-eyed princes who reign over my house. When I offered them Carr’s crackers for snack the other day, their faces instantly lit up. As we gathered at the dining room table and I tugged open the packaging to reveal the pale white crackers, their eyes narrowed:

“I thought you said these were Cars crackers,” Nathan protested.

Cars,” Nicky repeated.

“Where’s Lightning McQueen?”

Maybe it’s true what Buckingham Palace said—changing tastes.

Where to buy: Carr’s crackers are available in most grocery stores. I purchased mine at Treasure Island in Chicago.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


We’ve been homebound quite a bit the past few weeks, due in no small part to the cold weather and to a stomach flu that has been exchanged between the younger members of my house. This week I thought I’d just try to dig up something interesting about a product I already have at home—Quaker Oats. But what is there really to learn about this iconic product most Americans already have sitting in their pantries? Quite a bit actually. Quaker Oats holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Suppliers of Quaker Oat Products.”

I once lived a good part of a year in Philadelphia, so I have a better understanding of these mystic, peace-loving people than most Americans do. The Quakers, I mean—not Philadelphians. I’ve always understood—just as I assume you do—that Quakers founded this company. To write this entry I just needed to learn a little more about them.

The British Quaker website gives short shrift to the company history, instead focusing on the process of milling oats and the company’s commitment to renewable resources. In a word: Snoozeville. I gave up and tried the U.S. website, which offered quite a bit more detail. The American website shares that in 1877 Quaker Oats registered the very first U.S. trademark for breakfast cereal—a design featuring “a figure of a man in ‘Quaker garb.’” Then, surprisingly, it notes that owners Henry Seymour and William Heston are thought to have selected a Quaker to represent their product because it suggested honesty and good quality.

See the problem here? Seymour and Heston weren’t Quakers. Quaker Oats aren’t grown by Quakers. The company wasn’t formed by Friends. I don’t even know if Quakers like oatmeal. This is a sham, folks.

To get a little more of the back story, I consulted Arthur Marquette’s Brands, Trademarks and Good Will: The Story of the Quaker Oats Company. Marquette’s book is a fabulous history, not only of the Quaker Oats Company but of oat consumption in the United States in general. Prior to the late 1800s, oats weren’t considered people food by Americans; they were suitable only as horse food. Americans preferred big breakfasts heavy on meat, eggs, dairy and sugar. Quaker’s founders—not unlike Kellogg’s founders—sought to change the first meal of the day into one that was less expensive and less dependent on animal protein. Eating oatmeal for breakfast was especially popular among new Scotch and Irish immigrants who couldn’t afford the lavish spread so many others enjoyed. In concert with this rebranding of oatmeal as people food, the Quaker Oats Company was an aggressive advertiser, more so than many companies of the time period.

Marquette also provides a bit more detail about the decision to invent a Quaker connection for the brand. He writes:

“Heston was of Quaker descent, which may have motivated the trademark, but this is doubtful. More probably one of the partners, Henry Seymour, searching an encyclopedia for a virtuous identity that would instill buyer confidence, saw in the article on the Quaker sect exactly the connotation he desired for his steel-cut oats. Possibly his eye was on the large Quaker population in nearby Ohio towns and villages.”
I guess from reading this you could make the argument that Quaker Oats might still have some connection to the Quakers. Still, I wonder if Heston isn’t one of those people who simply claim they are Quakers because that sounds like a cool thing to be. Take Adam, for instance. When I told him I wanted to interview a Quaker for this article to find out if they’re as angry about the Quaker oat man as Native Americans are about the Washington Redskins, he reminded me that he considers himself to be of Quaker descent. He also pointed out that he went to the University of Pennsylvania, home of the Fighting Quakers. I’ll tell you what I just told him—you can’t just decide to be a Quaker sometimes. You’re either a Quaker all the time or you never are. You either go to a Friends’ meeting hall and sit in silence on Sunday mornings or you don’t.

As if Quaker impersonation weren’t bad enough, Quaker Oats has in recent years engaged in another sham. Notice any changes in the appearance of the man on the oat canister lately? You should. In 2012, the company revealed a tanner, leaner, younger-looking Quaker oat man who is a far cry from the portly, sagging gentleman who graced their packaging when I was growing up.

The company didn’t intend for the change to be noticeable; rather they envisioned it as a subtle rebranding effort. If oats are heart healthy, slimming, and good for your skin, the Quaker Oat Man wouldn’t be chubby, wrinkled, and old-looking, right? Thus the change in his appearance.

Princess Diana was no stranger to such a physical change. Soon after her marriage to Prince Charles, she started looking less like a schoolgirl and more like a glamorous new wife. In her 2006 biography Diana, Sarah Bradford recounts the new images of the princess of Wales on her Scottish honeymoon at the royal family’s Balmoral Castle:

“She was already transformed from the mousy girl of a few months previously; her hair was coloured blonde and with bare brown legs and tanned complexion she looked for the first time not just beautiful but glamorous.”
In a famous photo of Diana and Charles taken on this trip, he has just caught a fish in the river. The two posed together awkwardly, each taking on a different role. Bradford shares that Diana,

“gazing seductively at the press, her legs adopting a ballet position, draped a possessive arm around his shoulders. Charles looked stiff, nervous and worried, the dead salmon lying as a trophy at his feet.”
Diana’s transformation into a confident, sex symbol of a princess enthralled the British people instantly. At the same time, the marriage was almost instantly considered by both parties to be a mismatch. It just didn’t fit.

I couldn’t help feeling the same way as the tan, slim, younger-looking Quaker Oat Man gazed seductively at me from the side of the canister while I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies last weekend. That religious charlatan should be hawking something else—men’s cologne, athletic shoes, chewing gum. Oatmeal just isn’t a good fit.

Where to Buy: Come on, you can buy it anywhere.

Friday, October 18, 2013


I’m going to be really honest and tell you I’ve been relishing the time I’ve taken off from this blog the past few weeks. It’s been wonderful to head to bed early or watch a movie at night instead of researching and writing after a long workday, and I admit the further I’ve gotten away from it the less I’ve thought about this blog.

That is, until a few days ago. That was when I saw somewhere on Twitter that this week…THIS WEEK, you guys…is Chocolate Week in the United Kingdom. I think this is worth exploring. I think this is also a great week to knock out the remaining contender in the chocolate category. Cadbury UK Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Cocoa and Chocolate Manufacturers.”
Cadbury dates back to 1824, when John Cadbury opened a grocery store in Birmingham where he sold cocoa powder and drinking chocolate. Seven years later, Cadbury opened a manufacturing facility that produced cocoa products for mass consumption. By 1879 it had moved its factory to Bournville and had begun creating a model factory community for its workers. The Bournville factory had so much green space it was called the “Factory in a Garden.” There were ample fields for workers to enjoy a leisurely game of cricket, and all children in Bournville were encouraged to learn to swim in company pools. Workers could participate in morning devotions and Bible readings. Dressing rooms at the factory were heated so that workers wouldn’t have to change in the cold. Cadbury also scheduled outings to the country to allow for socialization and relaxation. As the Industrial Revolution pushed many companies to exploit their workers, the Cadbury family took the opposite approach. This gem of a film from 1953 gives a closer look.

Cadbury launched its popular Dairy Milk chocolate bar in 1905 to compete with Swiss chocolate makers. The company continued to create new and popular products throughout the decades, including Flake (1920), Crunchie (1929), Fudge (1948), Skippy (1960), the Crème Egg (1971), and Twirl (1987). In 2003 Cadbury Schweppes purchased the world’s second largest gum company, Adams, making it the largest confectionary company in the world.
Here in the States, Cadbury invokes images of Easter, specifically Cadbury cream eggs and those iconic Cadbury bunny tryouts commercials.

It’s a little rarer to find a plain Cadbury chocolate bar or the Green & Black’s bars that Cadbury also sells in the UK. It’s nearly impossible to find Cadbury drinking chocolate, a powdered concoction that you stir into hot milk to make a creamy hot chocolate.

To get the full experience of this royal warrant holder, I’ve selflessly sampled Cadbury drinking chocolate (very nice, and I like that the directions tell you to use milk—not water—and to stir in as much chocolate powder as you want until you get it the way you like it). Nathan and I made an expedition to Treasure Island one afternoon for a vanilla white chocolate Green & Black’s bar, which was awesome, and a Caramello bar, which was so-so. We used our plain Cadbury milk chocolate bar to make another Jamie Oliver recipe, velvety chocolate pots (recipe below). These little individual servings are super-rich and sort of an amped-up chocolate mousse without all of the eggs.  
Cities all over the U.K. are hosting their own events for Chocolate Week, including afternoon chocolate teas in hotels across London, screenings of that great Johnny Depp movie Chocolat, chocolate tastings at department store John Lewis, and London’s hosting of the Salon du Chocolat, the world’s largest chocolate show. Until the U.S. catches up and hosts our own Chocolate Week, sampling these Cadbury treats seems like the closest we can get from across the pond.
Where to Buy: I bought my Green & Black's and Cadbury bars at Treasure Island. I found Cadbury drinking chocolate at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods.
Velvety Chocolate Pots(adapted from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain)
8 1/2 oz. Cadbury milk chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 T amaretto
7 oz. cherries, raspberries, or strawberries
Chop up the chocolate and place it in a large heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate has melted. (Oliver warns not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl). Remove the chocolate from the heat and set aside to cool for five minutes.
Whip the cream and sugar together with an electric mixer until very soft peaks form. Use a whisk to stir in the amaretto. Be careful not to overbeat this mixture, which will make it impossible for the chocolate to be folded into it completely. Slowly pour the cooled melted chocolate into the cream and fold it in with a whisk until just combined. Again, do not overmix it.
Pour the chocolate mixture into small glasses. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. To serve, top with fruit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


If there’s anything writing this blog for the past several months has taught me, it’s that my expectations can be very misleading. Walkers Shortbread is just the perfect example. I love Walkers shortbread. I’m always amazed when I eat it how much it tastes like homemade shortbread. That’s why at first I was undeterred when I realized Walkers holds a royal warrant not for its famous shortbread but for something else. Something called an “oatcake.” Okay, sure, whatever. They’re probably good at making oatcakes too, right? Not so fast. Walkers Shortbread Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Supplier of Oatcakes.”

Before I explain to you in vivid detail what I hate so much about oatcakes, we need to be clear about pronunciation. As an American, I pronounce this word giving short shrift to the “oat” prefix. That’s a huge mistake, and you shouldn’t make it too. Keep in mind that Walkers is a Scottish company, that oatcakes are a traditional Scottish food. So instead of pronouncing this “oat-cakes” you need to be saying it more like “ouwt-cakes.” Let’s give a quick listen to how it’s done in this Walkers video.

Let’s circle back now, to why they’re so bad. Oatcakes (ouwtcakes, whatever) are dry and lifeless little snacks not unlike hardtack. I’ve eaten communion wafers that had more personality and flavor. They have a kind of green-gray-yellow tint to them I find unsettling outside the realm of prenatal vitamins and cleaning products. The box recommends serving them with cheese, but I like cheese too much to marry it to one of these beasts. Though they’re nothing like the Ryvita crackers I so despised several months ago, they remind me of them to the extent that I felt like the Queen had really screwed me over by recommending them. It’s not unlike a friend setting you up on a blind date and—almost immediately—you’re thinking to yourself What did that a****** think I would see in THIS guy?
Queen Elizabeth might make the argument that awarding a royal warrant to Walkers is political. This is a longstanding, family-owned Scottish company that prides itself on the quality of its ingredients and the authenticity of its process. It has been making its shortbread, oatcakes, and other baked goods in the Scottish village of Aberlour for more than a century. There’s something incredibly heartwarming about that. This is exactly the kind of business the royal family should be recognizing and calling attention to, in my opinion. Yet, why choose oatcakes when shortbread is clearly the superior product offered by Walkers?

Even Walkers seems surprised by this choice. In the little blurb about the company that appears on the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association website, they acknowledge that a royal warrant is “a great accolade for the humble oatcake.” Yeah. They then try to turn attention to their tastier offerings, suggesting the company is “best known for the quality and tradition of its pure butter shortbreads.” Even at this summer’s Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, Walkers didn’t just showcase the warrant-holding oatcakes but instead brought its entire product line, including many types of shortbread. It stamped the Queen’s symbol ER (an acronym for the Latin Elizabeth Regina) into samples of its shortbread, not the humble oatcake.
I began to wonder if the Queen was an outlier in her affection for oatcakes. Or, maybe she doesn’t like them but she’s just trying to be nice, like when American politicians gobble down junk food at state fairs when they’re on the campaign trail. Or maybe she considers oatcakes healthy and eats them even if they don’t taste particularly good. My mind led me in that direction all week, but today I decided I’d just double-check reviews of this product on Amazon.com. Amazingly enough, all of the reviewers loved oatcakes:

“…Yes, they are crisp, very dry, and rather crumbly, but that is exactly how they should be!”
“…these delicious oatcakes are a bit risky, like running about a Scottish crags with a kilt with no unders. Tiny hard bits might impede your bite. Maybe sturdy extra strong Scottish chompers can handle this. The oatcakes are delicious with wild honey or unadorned in their simple goodness. Just be careful.”

“If you have any Scottish blood in you, treat yourself to some of these fine oat cakes…”
“One time our dog was hit by a car, late on a Sunday afternoon. We had to rush her to the emergency vet, 45 minutes from our house. We put her in the car, loaded the car with oatcakes and poured some white wine. Yes, we drove while drinking the wine, but we got there, etc., etc., and weren’t starving when, hours later we got back with our poor bandaged-up but surviving dog…”

That one with the dog and the DUI that should have been is difficult for me to interpret too. In general, though, I think we can argue from this review and others that people really enjoy oatcakes. Consuming them seems almost a point of pride. These are hard to find—they might potentially break your teeth—they are dry and tasteless, but that’s how it should be. They will land like a brick in your stomach and keep you capable of driving despite having consumed way too much wine, especially when you’ve “loaded the car” with them. (Seriously, what does that mean? Did they bring more than a few boxes of oatcakes?)
If you’re ready to disregard my advice and even Walkers’ advice about which of their products you should be eating, be my guest. I just hope you have a strong set of chompers and an even stronger stomach.

Where to buy: I bought my Highland oatcakes at Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods. You can also order them from Amazon. Walkers shortbreads are available in most American grocery stores.
Photo credit: Credit for the photos of Walkers at the Coronation Festival goes to Theo Cohen.