That’s Gaelic not garlic

Of course a few of the recipes in my Mother’s collection are some I supplied her. One of those recipes is for traditional (Cape Breton) Oat Cakes, which comes from my husband Ray’s family.

Although my Mother’s family(Walls line) were Scottish, the Orkney Islands and Inverness shire, my husband’s family (Morrison/McDougall line) are highland Gaels. This distinction is significant. Not only were there regional differences in food, and culture but by the time the families arrived in the colonies, there was also differences in language.

Highland Village Historic site, Iona, Cape Breton: replica of an early Scottish settler home c, 2014

My Mother’s family, who were Presbyterian lowland Scots, had left behind their Gaelic language sometime in the prior 150 years, probably when it was first banned by the English. Ray’s family were Roman Catholic Highland Scots, supportive of the Jacobite revolution and steadfast to their religion and language.

Ray remembers his Granny well, her dedication to her faith, her Oatcakes and the cadence of her speech tinged with her Mother tongue. Ray recalls his father and Grandmother speaking Gaelic. He laughingly describes it today as spoken when they did not want others to know what they were saying or when he misplayed, while partnering his Granny in 45s.

Margaret McDougall c.1904

Maigret McDougald (Margaret McDougall) McNeil Morrison grew up in Bhreac Brook, East Bay, Cape Breton. Her McDougall family were Highland Scots, who arrived in North American, to St Jean’s Island (PEI) in 1772 with a group known as the Glenaladale Settlers.

Immigration to the eastern provinces of Canada during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was driven by hardship, famine, religious intolerance, war, etc. The Highland clearances drove many Scots to seek, a life, land and opportunity in North America. Although Scottish immigrants helped to settle the entire region a significant majority of Highland and Hebrides Scots either directly or indirectly settled in Nova Scotia, Pictou, Antigonish and Cape Breton counties particularly. This can be seen reflected in the names of communities baring Gaelic and Scottish names in the province, Airsaig, Barra Head, Iona, New Glasgow, Inverness.

Margaret’s family remained true to their faith and language traditions for 5 generations after arriving in North America. First on St Jean’s Island, where they were tenant farmers on land owned by someone else. And in Cape Breton where land grants were possible and where communities of former neighbours and family developed, assuring a new found level of autonomy and opportunity to maintain language and tradition.

Sadly today the Gaelic language in Nova Scotia has known a serious decline despite efforts to sustain it. A few years ago our Grandson Max who was 6, had no idea what the Highland Village Museum interpretative staff meant when she asked him “Do you speak Gaelic?” His response, delivered with wonderful Scottish intonation “No, I don’t care for the garlic” drew laughter twinged with loss. Traditional Gaelic music and food are very much alive in Cape Breton, evidenced by the success world wide of Cape Breton musicians fiddlers, singers, and the hundreds of thousands of Oatcakes which are made and eaten each year.

Oats and Barley are along associated with Scotland and the Scottish diet because they do well in the cool and damp climate. It is unsurprising that Oats and Oatmeal have played a critical role in the diet of the Scottish people including those in Nova Scotia (that’s right there are Nova Scotian Oatcakes too).

Oatcakes have become an iconic food of Cape Breton…and every family with Scottish heritage has their own best recipe. Visit most any Cape Breton Chowder house or restaurant and you are sure to see a version served as a side instead of or with dinner rolls and biscuits.

It not in the least surprising that Cape Breton Oatcakes have endured, they are a delicious, filling and portable. Oatcakes have graced many a miner’s can1, and helped them through 12 or more hours of hard labour underground. Margaret made many batches of oatcakes and it is likely a good many of them ended up in the lunch cans of her miner husband, and sons.

Here is the Morrison Family Oatcake recipe, enjoy!

Cape Breton Oatcakes

Ingredients: Recommended Ingredients:

1 cup Scottish oatmeal Red Mills Scottish Oatmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 -1/2 c sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1/4 c soured milk or buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Place dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, cut in shortening.
3. In a large measuring cup, combine slightly beaten egg with the milk, add to the dry mix, stir until incorporated but do not over mix.
4. Place the dough on a floured surface and press into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick.
5. Cut in to squares (or score the dough in to squares) place on a cookie sheet and bake 10 – 12 minutes.


1. Miners Can – refers to the metal lunch cans miners carried in to the pit containing the food they would eat for their working shift. Lunch cans had to be durable to protect the miner’s food safe from pit rats.


13 thoughts on “That’s Gaelic not garlic

  1. There is a Carin in Inverness,CB ,sitting up on the harbour hill ! It states my great grandfathers family and the names ! They landed on the shores of Inverness in 1803 from Scotland .Angus McIsaac ,(.know as Angus the Glennie) . They are buried in that spot !Anne Marie Howie !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bannock is more of a cake, cooked in one larger piece – while well Oatcakes are more like biscuit/cookies. I do have a recipe for bannock and I will be posting it and the source in a future blog. Good luck with the oatcakes.


  2. I was born in Glacé Bay Cape Breton Island moved to New Waterford and then as a young child came to Ontario for my father’s work. Most of my relatives still live on the island or the mainland. Love that place and go back every 2 or 3 yrs. I have oatcakes everywhere and although I have never made them I will give this recipe a go


  3. Great blog! I work at the Highland Village.My MacEachern Relative came with the Glenallendale settlers and then to East Bay.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just want to thank you for the great reading photos recipes and History I have been on my computer 2 days now and loved every minute again thank you.Glenna Boulard


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