Bannock 101

by Richard Munn|Published 07-12-2006

Most of us believe that bannock is a traditional native food that was adapted by European fur traders. In fact, it's the other way around. In many parts of North America, Native people had no access to flour prior to the arrival of European traders, although some flour substitutes existed, like wild turnips or corn, dried and ground to a powder.

Scottish Selkirk BannockBannock actually has its culinary roots in Scotland. The Scots originated this simple bread, and some fancier variations. Do a search on traditional Scottish cuisine and you'll find bannock mentioned frequently. You'll probably find information on Selkirk Bannock, old and famous enough to have its own name. It was a fancy bannock served only on holidays.

Because bannock could be quickly prepared from readily available ingredients, and because these ingredients lasted a long time without spoiling, bannock became a staple of the European fur traders and subsequently, the native people also. Of course, canoeists and other wilderness travellers have also adopted bannock as a staple of backcountry travel.

What is Bannock?

Bannock is a simple bread, generally leavened with baking powder rather than yeast. It can be baked, fried in a pan or sometimes even deep-fried. It can be made from virtually any kind of andse almost any kind of fat available (oil, lard, or bacon grease).

Making Bannock

Famed author and wilderness canoeist Sigurd Olson passed on his recipe for Bannock in a letter from 1962, stating that it was good "...for four, depending on what else goes with it." Olson's recipe was:

"Three or four cups of flour, a good pinch of salt, a few tablespoons of bacon grease, a level teaspoon of baking powder, enough warm water to make dough. Kneed the dough well, turning it over and over until all the ingredients are well mixed and the dough of even consistency. Use only enough water to make a rather dry dough. Too much water and it is spoiled.

Then, depending on the size of your frying pan, cut off enough of the dough to pat into a well-greased pan, making the bannock at this stage not more than half an inch in thickness. Have it fill the pan.

Now it is ready for the baking. You can start it over a low flame very gently so as not to burn, but it is better to do as the Indians and Old Timers—prop your pan beside the fire so it will get the heat and bake from the top. After the top is done, you can turn it and brown the other side. It usually takes about twenty minutes. The secret is a slow, even heat.

After it is done you can rub it with more bacon grease to make a nice juicy crust. Many like to add some fruit to the bannock, raisins, any chopped fruit, dried, or anything you can pick in season. It does something.

This is the bread of the north and worth working at."

The first rule of bannock making seems to be that there are no rules. A glance at the hundreds of recipes available shows a wild variation in ingredients, quantities and cooking time. Virtually any combination of flour, water and baking powder that is baked or fried will result in some type of bread, although the final product will vary in "eatability."

Recipes

A basic bannock recipe consists of:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup melted lard
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups water

From this basic starting point, a wide variation exists. Some recipes call for more or less water, some call for more baking powder. Some call for the addition of eggs. Many recommend "fancying up" the recipe with cinnamon, brown sugar, nuts or berries.

 

As long as these basic proportions are maintained, and the resulting dough is fairly dry (rather than sticky or runny) the end result will likely be acceptable. The dough is patted down into a pizza-like patty and either baked or fried in a pan with oil. Traditionally, bannock was baked in a cast iron frying pan that was propped up next to the fire so that the top baked.

Bannock prepared by frying takes about 12-15 minutes to cook. Baked bannock will take longer - from 30 to 40 minutes

 

History