College Days – cooking my oats!

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

This is the simplest of recipes but, whenever I make flapjacks, I am transported back to my college days in Oxford at Lady Margaret Hall. One of the first women’s colleges at Oxford, LMH (as it’s called), had a reputation for being a college where the ‘posh girls’ went.

By the mid-1970s, Oxford University was under pressure to admit more state school candidates and I clearly qualified, having gone to the local grammar school in Buckingham. At my interview I was asked which colleges at Oxford had my parents gone to? My heart sank. When I replied that I was the first member of my family to ever go to university, the tutor looked visibly surprised!

After the interview, I went to the Common Room and found myself surrounded by ‘gels’ from St. Paul’s, Cheltenham Ladies College, Benenden, St. Mary’s, who all seemed to know each other. I remember sitting in a deep leather armchair, feeling a little lost and lonely. Two girls, who clearly knew each other, came and sat on the arms of my chair. Ignoring me completely, they chattered away, swapping tales of balls, boating at Henley, their next skiing holiday, and their boyfriends, who were both at Eton. I wished I could slide beneath the leather seat and disappear – I felt so overwhelmed by their world of privilege and posh accents.

To my great surprise, a few months later, I got a telegram telling me that LMH had accepted me. My parents were delighted but, given the preponderance of ‘posh gels’, I was a little nervous that it would be hard to make friends. It was a relief when I arrived to discover that two doors down my corridor was Gilly Poole who, like me, came from a state school. She soon became my partner-in-crime and best friend.

The simplest of ingredients - oats, sugar, butter, and golden syrup
The simplest of ingredients – oats, sugar, butter, and golden syrup

Gilly was tall, blonde, and very good looking, while I was short, mousy-haired, and not so good looking! But we both shared the same sense of humour and loved  – among many other things – the Beach Boys, cheap white wine, Ovaltine, and flapjacks. The cheap white wine would be consumed while we listened to the Beach Boys in order to get us into ‘party mood’ before we went out at weekends, and the Ovaltine and Gilly’s flapjacks were consumed late at night when we got back. Gilly always had a tin of her home-made flapjacks in her room and we would finish the evening, sharing tales of our adventures.

Sadly, I lost contact with Gilly when I headed State-side to take up a fellowship studying American Literature at Wellesley College at the end of my second year. When I returned, she had graduated and over the years – what with work, moving to Bristol, then London, then Wales – we saw each other less and less.

Melt mode
Melt mode

But, whenever I make flapjacks, I’m transported back to our rooms at LMH where we sprawled on giant floor cushions and talked about everything under the sun.

Last weekend I decided to make them, in between cooking some fruit tarts for friends coming over for lunch. What followed was a lesson in not trusting one’s memory. I blithely popped them in the oven at the same temperature as the tarts. When I checked them only 20 minutes into cooking (they’re meant to cook for 35-40 minutes), it was too late. The edges were burned and the colour was deep brown. Trying to cook a fresh batch was out of the question – I had used up all the golden syrup (golden syrup is virtually impossible to find here in France, and on a Sunday – out of the question!).

Badly burned!
Badly burned!

This weekend I vowed to try again. But on Friday I finished a three month long work project, ending with a marathon 10-hour stint before I sent the report off at 9.30pm. Saturday was spent in Toulouse as Mr. T had flown over, but en route home, I said we would have to go via Revel to the only supermarket where they sell golden syrup so that I could cook flapjacks on Sunday for my post.

Not only did I succeed in buying everything I needed except the golden syrup, I also drove through Revel with the car boot door open and only twigged that the cars honking at me were trying to tell me something. Exhaustion had triumphed! No flapjacks were cooked – so all I can do is share the recipe and advise you use the correct oven temperature!


175 gm unsalted butter
175 gm golden syrup
175 gm golden demerara sugar
350 gm rolled oats


Preheat the oven to 150 C (Mine was at 180C – hence the disaster!)

Chop the butter in small pieces and slowly melt in a medium size heavy based pan. When it’s melted, add the sugar and stir continually until all the sugar has melted and there’s no ‘grittiness’ left. Add the syrup and stir until that’s melted.

Remove from the heat and finally add the rolled oats and stir until they’re thoroughly coated.

Line a flat baking tray with greaseproof paper and then spread the oat mixture into the tin. Press down and smooth down with the back of a metal spoon.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden-brown (not burnt!) and remove from the oven. While they’re still hot, I use a knife to just mark them into squares while the oat mixture is soft.

Allow to cool on a baking rack, then turn onto a wooden board and finish cutting into squares. Allow to cool thoroughly before putting in a tin.

I’m afraid I can’t finish this recipe with a picture of golden flapjacks fresh from the oven. Instead, I’ll finish it with an ancient photo of me fresh from my graduation ceremony – and the thought that even the best university education in the world can be defeated by the simplest of recipes!

Graduation day with my parents
Graduation day with my parents

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