Baking Bannock Bread. “Why?” you say.

20 Jan

The amazing book club I belong to (No Nuts, No Cats, No Guilt . . . after our collective allergies) discussed a timely book this month, given the Idle No More movement garnering much needed attention here in Canada. The novel was about the havoc wrought upon Canada’s First Nations people by our government’s assimiliation efforts through the institution of residential schools. As Long as the Rivers Flow, was written by the Honourable James K. Bartleman former diplomat, former Lieutenant-General of Ontario and member of the Rama First Nation near Orillia. A work of fiction, Bartleman presents the multi-generational effects on native communities, from northern Ontario in particular, through a fictional character named Martha.

Cree "As Long as the Rivers Flow" Bannock

Cree “As Long as the Rivers Flow” Bannock

Native hospitality, the way Bartleman describes it, centres on feasts, music, dance and story-telling. For hosting book club this month, I decided to offer a few dishes inspired by the book. In the earliest parts of the book, in every scene set in an aboriginal household guests are greeted with hot cups of sweetened tea and a fresh pan of bannock bread.

From what little research I conducted, bannock seems to have a Scots Celtic origin and it means ‘thick flat cake’. The Online Etymology dictionary suggests the word’s origins might be from the “Old English bannuc (a bit, small piece) or from Gaelic bannach (a cake).”

It tastes like a moist soda (or quick) bread to me and I wasn’t surprised to learn that the individual wedges are called scones (or skaan). The early Scottish, Irish and northern Brits would have brought the recipe and cooking method to North America with them. Originally cooked by Scots on a heated flat rock, bannock is well suited to camping or cooking outdoors on the land.

The ingredients are simple and easy to pack for an outdoor trip. Aboriginal Canadians often cook smaller portions of the dough in balls on the end of sticks held over the campfire. Some indigenous communities fry the dough (fried bread) in a skillet with lots of fat, rendering a more doughnut-like pastry.

I located this recipe for Authentic Native Cree Bannock Bread from the website of the now defunt Two Bay Tour company in the Moosenee/Moose Factory area of northern Ontario. The instructions require a 16″ square pan, which is far more bannock than a Savvy Single needs (or her whole book club). Instead, I cut the quantities in half and used my 8″ cast iron skillet for baking.

Like any good soda bread or scone recipe, you are offered a basic ‘palette’ that is perfect for regional or personal variations. Modern magazines like Canadian Living offer bannock recipes that use melted butter instead of the traditional lard (likely for health reasons). I’ll provide the ingredients I used below, with the possible variations cited in brackets.

3   Cups                      all-purpose white flour (whole wheat, rolled oats)

1/2 Cup                      all-vegetable shortening (lard or melted butter) at room temp.
1.5   Tbsps                  baking powder

1/2 Tbsp                     salt

1 Cup                           currants (or raisins, wild blueberries, cranberries or grated               Cheddar cheese)

1 3/4 – 1 7/8 Cups     water

Set a rack into the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In a medium mixing bowl, add the flour and the shortening. Work shortening into the flour using your hands. Don’t over work the mixture. Stop when you cannot see any more bits of shortening. Then add the baking powder, salt and currants and whisk twice or three times around the bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and pour the water into it. Use a wooden spoon to mix the dough just until no streaks of flour are obvious. Dough will be lumpy and should be on the watery side of sticky.

Grease a 8″ cast iron skillet (or baking pan, oven-safe or campfire skillet) well with shortening. Spoon the batter into the skillet and push dough to the edges of the pan. Try to obtain an even thickness.

Bake in the centre of a 425F oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden on top. Allow the bannock to cool slightly in the pan. Slice into wedges (or squares if using a baking pan) and serve warm. We ate our slices with smoked fish and without benefit of butter, jam or jelly and it was delicious.

Bannock with Cuurrants --- baked in cast iron skillet

Bannock with Cuurrants — baked in cast iron skillet

Leftover wedges keep well, wrapped in aluminum foil, for several days. I reheated single ‘scones’, wrapped in a paper towel, in the microwave on High for 20 – 30 seconds.

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8 Responses to “Baking Bannock Bread. “Why?” you say.”

  1. Debby Simpson January 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Left over bannock can also be quite good split in half and toasted with butter or jam.

    • Susan at Savvy Single Suppers January 20, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

      A savoury bannock would be good with your ham/kale/parsnip/pea soup, Deb! If I toasted a slice of the currant bannock, I’d use a toaster oven instead of the toaster. My bannock was a bit on the crumbly side.

      • Debby Simpson January 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

        Mmmmm….That sounds good Susan. I brought back a bannock-like recipe from a B&B I stayed at in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile which I’ve been meaning to try….

      • Susan at Savvy Single Suppers January 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

        Try your Chilean version, Deb and if you like it we can post the recipe here . . . if you’re willing to share!

  2. Amedar Consulting Group January 25, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Definitely, what a great site and informative posts, I definitely will bookmark your blog.All the Best!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Smoked Fish Chowder — Snow Day Satisfaction « Savvy Single Suppers - January 29, 2013

    […] I ate my chowder with a warm wedge of Authentic Cree Bannock . . . but this time I made it with 1.5 cups of rolled oats and 2 cups of all-purpose white flour (instead of the 3 cups white I used in the original recipe, see here.) […]

  2. What’s Cooking? — Week beginning January 19, 2013 « Savvy Single Suppers - February 2, 2013

    […] today, I’ll post a quick recipe for Authentic Cree Bannock I made earlier this week for a book club […]

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