Ken Wallace is a man with a passion for oatcakes. After baking oatcakes for friends and family for 30 years, he decided to turn his passion into a business, launching Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes in the spring of 2014.
Oatcakes in Nova Scotia aren’t exactly hard to come by, but Wallace has set out to make his oatcakes distinctive. For him, that means using good quality local ingredients whenever possible and baking by hand to create, as he says on his website, “an oatcake with a higher moral purpose.”
“They’re not just good, but good for you, and because of the local sourcing and the quality ingredients they should be good for society altogether,” Wallace says.
Since he started counting in July 2014, he’s baked over 26,000 oatcakes. Each batch is named and labelled after a current event. The recent “Amelia Reds” were in honour of Amelia Mary Earhart’s birthday, while the hurricane Arthur batch, the first batch he named, was a clear tribute to the maritime weather at the time.
Getting the business up and running hasn’t been without its challenges. He’s learned not to take anything for granted — such as always being able to source local ingredients.
“Right now, there is no spelt in the Maritimes. The harvest suffered over the past year. For about a month, we’ve had to bring in the spelt from Quebec, until the [local] harvest in the fall,” says Wallace.
Although Wallace has been self-employed most of his life, starting Genuine Nova Scotia Oatcakes was still a big change for him. But after spending 30 years working behind a computer as a graphic designer and feeling like his life was “a series of Apple system upgrades,” he decided enough was enough.
“The best day is an oatcake day. I get up, I practice meditation for an hour, and then I start the oatcakes, which will go for six or eight hours,” he says.
He uses his time baking to listen to audio books or podcasts. “When I’m doing design … I can’t listen to Steven Pinker talk about the decline of violence in civilization. But when I’m making oatcakes I can,” says Wallace.
Customers can even check Wallace’s website to see what he was listening to when he made their batch. Economics and Buddhism are common themes, with a bit of music thrown in now and then for the occasional lighter listen.
The oatcakes are available in various stores and at farmers’ markets throughout Halifax, with delivery available. They’ve made their way as far as Australia — 72 days by boat — packaged in a recycled coffee can filled with loose oatmeal for padding.
Wallace also takes custom orders, such as a recent order for a wedding labelled “Scotian romance.”
He’s hopeful for the future and is particularly excited about how well the oatcakes are selling in neighbourhood convenience stores.
“Maybe people just go there to buy cigarettes or whatever. But the oatcakes are sitting on the counter and they’re actually selling there,” he says. “I would love to see these oatcakes in every corner store, sitting there with the Twinkie bars.”