Lancashire oatcakes found!

Back in 2005 I made a blog post about my hunt for Lancashire Oatcakes in the style I remember from my childhood. The closest I was able to get was a recipe for Staffordshire Oatcakes.

I tried that recipe, but it wasn't right. I tried modifications, but failed. My family began to tease me about my various efforts and failures.

Well, fast-forward to 2013 and the content of the Internet has greatly expanded.

First, there is a Wikipedia Oatcakes entry. As I noted earlier, there are distinct regional differences. Currently the article describes:
  • Scottish oatcakes
  • North Staffordshire and Derbyshire oatcakes – two very closely related
  •  Lancashire oatcakes
  • Canadian oatcakes

While Lancashire oatcakes are mentioned, there is no recipe. However, it does say they are: “...made without wheat flour or milk, and shaped as an approximate 11-by-6-inch (28 cm × 15 cm) oval, smooth on one side and rough on the other…” The physical description is exactly as I remember. The lack of wheat flour and milk clearly makes a big difference and explains why the Staffordshire oatcake recipes were not what I was looking for. On the plus side, the fact that there is no wheat is ideal as some members of my family need to avoid wheat gluten.

But where to find a recipe for the Lancashire style?

The Internet came to the rescue again. Now I have found this recipe:

  • 450g fine oatmeal (you can grind regular oatmeal in a food processor if you wish)
  • 2 tsp. instant, dried, yeast
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 dessert spoon oil
  • 1.5l warm water (about)

Combine the oatmeal, yeast, sugar, salt and oil in a large bowl.
Form a well in the centre and add just over half the water. Stir to combine then keep adding water until you have a pancake-like batter.
Heat and lightly oil a frying pan then add 1 cup of the batter and cook for about 4 minutes per side.
Set aside to cool as you finish cooking the remaining batter. Either use immediately or dry to make 'hard'. These oatcakes will keep in the refrigerator for several days and freeze well.

I have found the same recipe on Celtnet and Lancashire Life. I usually make a half-sized batch.

The results have been quite good, but not perfect yet. In particular the appearance is wrong. Details of preparation seem to make a big difference.

The oatmeal needs to be ground very fine – the finer the better I have found. I use a kitchen machine on a high grind setting for a minute or so.

The recipe calls for yeast, but there is no mention of letting it sit first. Most recently I did so for two hours at room temperature, which seemed beneficial. Overnight in a refrigerator might be even better. I will have to experiment.

Then there is temperature. At first I tried cooking as I would a traditional crepe, but the oatcake never seemed to brown properly. I realized that crepes are cooked at a comparatively low temperature because of the milk and eggs in them – both of which burn easily. I had much greater success with a higher temperature; if fact, a very high temperature.

An important distinction of Lancashire oatcakes is that they are smooth on one side, and bubbly on the other. Reference is made to using a cast iron griddle or hot stone, not a modern non-stick frying pan of course. Significant mass to resist cooling as the batter is added should help.

So I was really pleased when I found pictures of the traditional Lancashire oatcake cooking process. www.oatcakebaker.co.uk is a gold mine on the subject:

“This site is about the Holroyd family hotplate bakehouse located at 6 Barkerhouse Road, Nelson, Lancashire, UK which made oatcakes, crumpets, pikelets and muffins between 1909 and 1984… The information included in this site is largely from the family albums and scrapbooks.”

A key element was an ‘oatcake throwing machine,’ patented in the 19th century. It is this device that creates the characteristic elongated shape, and which deals with the tricky issue of spreading the batter in a thin and uniform layer before it is placed on a very hot, hotplate with a shellac surface (to prevent sticking).

After the first side is cooked (the side that is smooth), “The oatcake is scraped off the face with a flexible knife about 40cm long by 5cm wide picked up by hand and transferred to the second hotplate.” This second plate is cooler, and the oatcakes appear to be left on it longer as there are 8-10 on it while there is only one on the first plate at any time.

Reference to the large flexible knife or spatula solves another issue I found. The oatcakes are very fragile while they are cooking. Much more so than pancakes and crepes made with wheat – gluten helps bind them.

So I have some more experimenting to do, but I think I’m on the right track. The good news is that my family likes the recent results well enough to eat them now.


Can the Enterprise Strike Back?

Most people have written-off Research in Motion (RIM) and their Blackberry platform. But then most people take a consumer’s perspective in making that assessment.

RIM is making a play to its traditional strength – security. But it is considering security for both enterprises and consumers. Security is a powerful draw for enterprises, but not for consumers in my experience.

I got to think about this when I attended a RIM Blackberry event in Toronto yesterday – the BlackBerry Enterprise Forum 2012. Clearly aimed to the enterprise, as you’d expect, at least half of the attendees were from IT departments. And I estimate 95% were male! This is interesting because the day before I attended a webinar on electronic signatures and all of the questions came from women. In my experience women dominate the business side of records and document management efforts in enterprises. The under-representation of women should have set off alarms.

RIM is responding to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend in many organizations. First they provide tools under the BlackBerry Mobile Fusion banner to help IT departments register and manage Android and iOS (Apple) devices, in addition to RIM devices. This approach recognizes that staff, and most significantly, senior executives, are bringing such devices to work and demanding that they be connected to enterprise resources, starting with email. But it will do nothing to reverse the trend of people investing in Android and iOS devices personally.

“Blackberry Enterprise Server improvements will mean enterprises will have one unified view of their complete mobile infrastructure so IT managers can have control of every mobile device in their company.” – Thorsten Heins quoted

RIM hopes that BlackBerry Balance (video), a key feature that is further built-out in the forthcoming BB10 release, might encourage staff to pick a BlackBerry as their personal device. There is a complete separation of personal and work information on a device into two workspaces. In BB10 users get a unified interface, but are unable to copy information from work to personal areas. Certainly IT departments will like the added security, and this might let them push back on the deployment of non-Blackberry devices, but there is less ‘in it’ for staff. Perhaps the best feature is that IT can delete all work information on a device without touching personal information. I could have benefited from a better separation between work and personal information on my devices earlier this year (blog post). But in the end, for most people, look for the shiniest, coolest, most fashionable device of the moment, and don't consider their possible future dismissal.

RIM knows this and acknowledged it by highlighting the hot features of the new camera in BB10 devices and the new intelligent keyboard. But I doubt it will be enough.

I was left with the feeling that RIM is trying to do too much in too many arenas. The breadth of their effort was presented as strength: “No other company has as comprehensive a platform as BlackBerry,” said Andrew McLeod, RIM's managing director of Canada operations and event chair. RIM offers operating systems, enterprise security and device management, cloud services, and handheld devices, while trying to appeal to consumers and enterprises, and also feeding a developer and partner network across all of these. Apple, Microsoft and Google each only do some of this, and they are able to devote far more resources than a diminished RIM. For me, in a fast-paced market, you can only win when you focus sharply. A fully integrated offering wins when there is enough time to complete it, which requires competitors make few changes and that there are no disruptive market entries. That is not the current climate in the mobile device world.

For me the enterprise and cloud security story was the most compelling, and perhaps it will be the ultimate, surviving asset.

The excitement and enthusiasm of the RIM staff at the event was palpable. They are believers and are being tested in ‘the fire.’ I tried to be supportive – I took my BlackBerry and had my Kindle in my pocket (to read on the subway), but refrained from taking my iPad. But even at such an event for hard-core supporters, I saw a number of iPhones in use.


Not all users are bad, but they may not be paying attention

Yesterday, in the As the pendulum swings - Users vs. the Enterprise, I discussed how the balance between the needs of staff users and those of the enterprise that employs them has recently swung strongly to favor users as a result of consumerization.

My perspective was that of the enterprise. But even though users are currently in an advantageous position, they may still encounter issues. I found this when I left OpenText recently.

I had worked for over a decade in the same company. Outlook/Exchange was the standard email system during that whole period, and in recent years OpenText's own Exchange email archiving solution was implemented internally. I was comfortable that here was robust data protection, backup and archiving with long-term recovery capabilities that I could rely on without thinking. I kept all of my contacts in the system, and was readily able to access them through my laptop, Blackberry and iPad.

When I left the company, my access to the Exchange server was of course removed. That is when I discovered that I had lost all of my contacts, some ~4,000 in number. In hindsight it was obvious that I had become complacent and was not using the features of Outlook that would have stored my personal information locally. Fortunately, I was able to recover the contact vCards. All would not have been lost, as I use Linkedin for many contacts, but certainly not all.

But, I also connected my primary ISP email account (Yahoo) to Outlook so I could read both work and personal emails. Fortunately, I had configured the mail service to keep copies even after they were downloaded by Outlook, so I still had copies of the incoming emails, though not some of the outbound. There were a few other emails accounts that I use less often and did not bother to connect so these were unaffected.

I had kept my personal files separate from my work files on my company-supplied laptop, and my departure from the company occurred over time, so I was able to ensure I had preserved all of these on my personal computer. But had I been required to immediately return all of the company equipment, getting my personal files off the company equipment would have been hard or even impossible.

So, lesson learned. As I reconfigure my personal 'IT World', I will make it more robust and independent. It will have a redundant blend of local and Cloud storage. I learned that lesson with the dot.com bust when a number of resources I used disappeared without warning. In fact recently, both the Adjix and Unhub sites that I used regularly disappeared.

But I will also ensure that I can respect the compliance and efficiency needs of any company that I work with in the future.

The merger of personal and social in the information sphere in recent years has been much discussed. But it isn't just enterprises that have to deal with this, so must their staff.


As the pendulum swings - Users vs. the Enterprise

There have been two traditional enemies of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) adoption:
  1. Email
  2. Shared network folders/drives
For most users in an enterprise (i.e. staff), it is simply easier to send a file to a colleague through email than it is to first deposit the file and then send a link instead.

In the early 2000's, progress was made to close the usability gap so that it was nearly as easy to deposit and send a link as it was to send directly. Enterprises were motivated to encourage or even require this user behavior by compliance requirements (e.g. SOX), especially in some industrial (e.g. 21 CFR Part 11 in the life sciences sector) and government sectors. The effort was made feasible by the fact that in the majority of cases, the files were in either Microsoft Office or PDF formats, and that each enterprise typically had standardized email system, often MS Exchange or Lotus Notes. ECM systems provided easy approaches that tied the two together.

Similarly, with shared network folders, users found it very easy to just create a folder that they needed, then share it with a few colleagues as required. But this is highly non-scalable, even for individual users, who quickly have access to hundreds of poorly named and unmaintained folders and files. The benefits of bringing some standardization to the naming and maintenance of folders and files, with audit trails and version control, became an ECM adoption driver that even many users supported. Enterprises saw the efficiency benefits of making current and relevant information more readily available to staff in support of their work.

But in recent year the pendulum has very much swung back in favor of the end user with the consumerization of enterprise IT.

On the email front, most staff have ready access to Cloud email services such as Gmail, even if their enterprise-sanctioned email service goes down. And increasingly staff are creating content in other formats (i.e. not Office or PDF) that are supported by these email services, or other services that provide new types of content such as blogs, microblogs, wikis, videos, etc. And they are often doing this on devices that they personally supply (e.g. smart phones and tablets).

And on the shared folder front, dedicated Cloud services such as Dropbox and Box.net are making very significant in-roads into enterprises, even if they are not sanctioned. Users simply take the easier and arguably the best way (from a personal efficiency perspective) to get their jobs done. They gain ready access to 'their' files wherever they are and on whatever device they use.

Clearly the 'pendulum' has swung very much towards the needs of end users in recent years. But the return swing is inevitable. It will likely be driven by:
  1. Disclosure disasters to come (think Wikileaks 'on steroids'), that will force enterprises to be enforce processes,
  2. Growing process confusion and inefficiencies as the number of consumer-oriented services used by staff continue to grow, and by
  3. Enterprise software vendors moving to adopt the best features of consumer software to the needs of enterprises.


My next phase

Today was my first day after I left OpenText. I had a great 11 years with the company that afforded me fabulous opportunities to learn about content management, the enterprise content management (ECM) field and how it relates to business process and enterprise architecture. In recent years our view of content greatly expanded to the digital media perspective.

On the collaboration side, I had many opportunities to blog - sometimes in this blog, and more often in OpenText Online Communities and internally within OpenText. I also heavily promoted microblogging in the context of work. After a slow start, it was gratifying to see growing numbers of active participants.

Personally I am one of those who tend to 'drink from a firehose' of information, even when it threatens to give me a headache. As a believer in the importance of metrics, it was interesting in my studies to find I was subscribed to 40% more internal discussions than the next most active staff member. I was also one of the most active and relevant staff on external social media as shown by internal tracking studies for marketing effectiveness. So my activities had business benefit. But they also had personal benefit. Much has been written about the merger of personal and business life, and this is one clear example.

As I announced my departure from OpenText, I was contacted privately and publicly through many different channels, which was very gratifying. New opportunities are opening up, in part because of those online social activities. I'm hoping for a wide range of new experiences in the coming months, helping me to broaden my knowledge and to do some things I could not do before.

The orientation of this blog will change, and hopefully my post frequency will pick up again.

On to the next phase.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to contact me directly you can find me on Linkedin, Twitter (@MartinSS) or email me at MartinSS at Rogers dotcom.