This is how to make ‘Floddies’ or ‘Canal Floddies’, as they eventually became known.
So what are floddies?
A ‘floddie’ is a type of potato cake but is made with grated, raw potato rather than mashed, giving them a different texture, and making them much quicker and easier to make.
Up to the 19th century floddies were a popular breakfast dish in the north east of England, and particularly in Gateshead and Durham, making use of cheap, local, easy to obtain ingredients, wild or bought.
They were abandoned over a hundred years ago, in favour of other fashionable or cheap breakfasts such as kippers (probably also invented in the north east of England). Before floddies were completely abandoned as a breakfast meal, they were adopted by canal building navvies working in the region, again as a popular breakfast, and so became known as ‘Canal Floddies’. It’s probably thanks to the navvies that the floddies are remembered at all.
It is said that the navvies made their floddies on their shovels over a fire but you are allowed to make them in a frying pan on a cooker. It’s a lot easier.
I made my first floddies on a canal narrow boat. That sounds like I am a bit of a romantic but in actual fact I live on a narrowboat and so had nowhere else to do it. I served them to a pair of boat builders who very much approved. I have since had a go at making them on a shovel over a fire, as part of a larger breakfast, but my fried egg slid off.
Floddies are quick and easy to make, and make use of 4 simple ingredients.
What you need to make 1-5 Floddies (depending on size of individual floddie)
1 x Egg
1 x medium sizes potato – raw, freshly grated
Flour – self raising gives best results
Salt and pepper – to taste
You don’t need to measure anything, or use scales, they are easy to make without.
What you need to do (for your first attempt)
Chuck some freshly grated spud into a bowl (start with about ¾ of your spud).
Crack an egg into it
Add salt and pepper to taste
Mix it up
Add a little flour
Adjust the texture by the addition of potato (wetter) and/or flour (drier).
It was the ideal way to share an egg. The above ingredients to match one egg will make about 2 or three breakfast floddies, or 5 smaller ‘nibbles’, a single giant one.
You should be aiming for a fairly dry mixture which will keep its form during cooking. Keep adding a little flour to the mixture until all the wetness of the egg and potato are absorbed. If you keep the mix fairly dry the strands of crispy potato will make appealing and crunchy patterns on the outside, and it will still be light and semi-bread like inside. This is my favourite way of doing them but by changing the wetness/dryness of the recipe you can attain different textures and appearances and I include several photographic examples in this article.
Cook on a medium heat, using a little oil, so that the mixture almost cooks through without the bottom burning, then flip them.
In the example below parsley and smoked ham floddies have been cooked slowly until bubbles appear on the surface, then they are turned.
In the next example small, crispy floddies will result, perfect as starters or as nibbles. These are ham and chive.
In the following example the single floddie is large, potato rich, and contains parsley. The high potato content resulted in a crunchy pattern on the outside, made by the exposed strands of grated potato.
The navvies flavoured the mix with whatever herbs or flavourings were to hand, bought or scavenged from the local area, and I have tried quite a few to good effect. Just use whatever you have available, but try making floddies without herbs to start with, so that you get the feel of the pure floddie. I’ve had great success with parsley, and with chives, and even won a prize in a small local cooking competition with my parsley floddies.
Herb flavoured ones are very impressive, especially to anyone who hasn’t encountered floddies, and they will assume it’s a fancy foreign dish rather than the English poor persons breakfast, which is what it really is.
The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it to suit yourself with as much or as little potato and flour as you like, or you have, and with any herbs, or without if you prefer. It’s a very flexible recipe. It can be any size and can vary in texture according to taste. If you make it predominantly with potato you can make them with lots of crunchy bits on the outer edges. If you make it with lots of flour it will be more pancake like. And all this without the use of scales.
Floddies can be eaten as a meal in themselves but also make a perfect addition to a full English breakfast, or to any meal really. You can even cover them with cheese and stick them under the grill, or serve them with other toppings. A big one makes the perfect platform for a fried egg. Small ones can be served as a starter and they go well with pickles or chutney. Kids seem to like them too.
So come on all you Geordies, and Mackem, this is your food history, time for you to claim it back.
And what about all you people on the canals? This is also canal food, a traditional towpath breakfast? Give it a try. It’s easy. Spud, egg, flour, appetite …. that’s all you need!
The English Breakfast: A Biography Of A National Meal, With Recipes – Bloomsbury Academic
English Breakfast Handbook: The definitive guide to the tradition, history and heritage of the English breakfast, including key ingredients and recipes. – Kindle
The Canal Boat Cookbook – Kindle
Narrowboat Kitchen: Easy Recipes. More about life on a canal boat. – Kindle