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 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.

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