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Making oatcakes with Harnan stands

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Making oatcakes using a harnan stand

As the Covid-19 lockdown continues, I’m glad to see that people aren’t panic shopping as much anymore. For a while there it was getting a bit difficult to get the basics.

One thing I noticed people were buying a lot of were oatcakes! True, they don’t go off for a while but I find them one of the most boring foods.

An image from the Rose Shaw Collection, showing a plain harnan stand over the fireplace

A plain harnan stand over the fireplace

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This griddle was on display in the old farming gallery and as hard as it is to believe those are fake soda farls! Out in our Folk Museum our bakers make the real thing though.

Griddle

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Harnan stands in the collection

Harnan stands

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A modern oatcake recipe

A modern oatcake recipe

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Making oatcakes was quite common for people in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Image: An image from the Rose Shaw Collection, showing a plain harnan stand over the fireplace
An image from the Rose Shaw Collection, showing a plain harnan stand over the fireplace

Oatcakes were fairly easily made. Traditionally, after being baked on a griddle, the oatcakes were placed on a harnan stand. They dried out and hardened in front of the fire. The mixture was most commonly made in a circle on the griddle and then broken into quarters. They could have been taken with buttermilk and potatoes. They were hard after toasting by the fire on the harnan stands and they would have lasted a good while. They were often made in bulk in advance for those crossing the sea or going on long journeys.

Cooking on a griddle

Image: This griddle was on display in the old farming gallery and, as hard as it is to believe, those are fake soda farls! Out in our Folk Museum our bakers make the real thing though.
This griddle was on display in the old farming gallery and, as hard as it is to believe, those are fake soda farls! Out in our Folk Museum our bakers make the real thing though.

The griddle was a cast iron circular disc with two hooks and a handle attached by the hooks. It generally had a loop or hook at the top to allow for the griddle to be rotated as the oatcakes, bread or farls baked.

Harnan stands

If you look carefully in the Folk Museum you will see at least one harnan stand and griddle  by the fire in most of the domestic rural buildings. These two objects, both made by the blacksmith, were very common hearth items that the woman of house would have been absolutely lost without. They would have been used every single day.

The harnan stands, as they were known in Ulster, were very common in the Ulster province. They were also used to keep baked bread warm and probably created a good crispy crust to the bread.

These iron stands had a base slot and and hook leg at the back that opened out so it could stand up. Although some are plain in design, many in our collection are quite decorative with loops, wavy lines and swirls. A colleague suggested to me that these stands were probably made by apprentice blacksmiths trying out their skills at manipulating the metal.

A modern oatcake recipe

Image: Homemade oatcakes
Homemade oatcakes

Anyway I doubt many of you have a harnan stand handy at home but for those that like oatmeal cakes here’s a recipe to make them using a modern oven!

https://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/oatcakes.html

Enjoy. I’ll be making shortbread instead!