For some, Nova Scotia is the sight of leaves changing colour in the Annapolis Valley. For others, it’s the sound of waves crashing along the Eastern Shore. But for Ken Wallace, a taste of Nova Scotia is always just a bite away.
“I fell in love with oatcakes when I moved here from Ontario 30 years ago,” says Wallace.
He can’t recall how he first happened upon a recipe for the oat-based treats, but remembers that once he started making them, he couldn’t stop.
“I was experimenting with the ingredients and next thing I know, I was baking batches to send to my family members across the country.”
After decades of receiving rave reviews from relatives, friends, and neighbours, Wallace decided to make biscuits his business. Last July, he founded Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes and began selling the cookies with the mission of offering “a wholesome and delicious oatcake made from the finest local ingredients,” or, as he calls it:
A respectable recipe
Wallace gets his ingredients from producers in the Maritimes located as near to his Halifax home as possible.
“It really is a challenge to make something just from stuff that’s nearby, but it’s about giving something to the community while making a bit of a living too,” he says.
He uses organic oats and spelt flour from New Brunswick’s Speerville Flour Mill. The cookies are sweetened with honey and maple syrup from Nova Scotian bee farms and sugar shacks.
“They’re handmade. So while they’re consistently good, each one’s as unique as a snowflake. Some are thinner, some are thicker. Some are chewier, some are crisper,” says Wallace. “It all depends on timing and where they sit in the oven.”
Wallace’s treats are about the size of a checkers piece, making them much smaller than many of the “hockey puck” sized oatcakes sold around Halifax. He thinks the treats are better for sharing when they’re bite-sized. He says no one ever just eats one.
“It’s almost like there’s some sort of universal law. You’re always reaching for another.”
Wallace has put a lot of thought into what goes inside the treats, but he’s equally mindful of what goes outside of them.
“A case of Oreos comes in a plastic tray that gets thrown directly into the garbage,” he says. “There’s just so much waste.”
That inspired the baker to deliver his desserts in a way that’s kinder to the environment. Small batches of Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes come in recyclable and reusable bags.
More serious snackers have the option of ordering a KiloCan, 60 oatcakes packaged inside an old coffee tin. Wallace uses a unique eco-friendly lining for the tin to keep the cookies from crumbling — oatmeal.
“Who said you can’t have your (oat) cake and eat porridge too?” he jokes on his website.
The lining’s especially important for when the oatcakes make long journeys abroad, travelling to first-time customers and Nova Scotians yearning for a taste of home. Wallace has shipped tins to Hawaii and Arizona in the U.S., and to Bhutan and Gambia. In early February, he shipped an order to Queensland, Australia. It was a 72-day trip by boat.
“The thing about oatcakes is someone could find one in 10,000 years and it would probably still be fresh,” he says.
A busy business
At this point, Wallace is making oatcakes one or two days a week in order to fill private orders and supply the six stores in Halifax where they’re sold. Wallace estimates he’s baked more than 12,000 biscuits since last July. He had to add an extra rack to the oven in his north-end home to keep up with demand.
“The best day’s an oatcake day. It starts with a meditation and then I put on music or a great audiobook and start baking. Even if I begin early in the morning, I won’t finish until late at night.”
The radio is always playing when Wallace bakes. Inspired by the day’s current events, he gives each batch of cookies a unique name. Recent trays of blueberry oatcakes were named March Blizzard Blues to honour the storm raging beyond his window. When another hit later that week, he christened the lot Double Whammies.
As his business approaches its first anniversary, Wallace has begun to play around with a few ideas for the future.
“I’m not quite sure where it’s heading but I think there’s a lot of potential. I always hear there are no oatcakes in Toronto or New York,” he says. “Who knows, maybe we’re going to take over the world with oatcakes.”
In the meantime, Wallace has more important things on his plate — his afternoon snack, a selection of freshly baked biscuits.