My family roots on my mother’s side are a mixed bag of different cultures as are many Canadians, going back several generations. French, Irish, Scottish, and Métis ancestors in the mix. One of my seventh great grandfathers was a French Soldier, one of the first settlers in New France, some were Irish and Scottish immigrants escaping the potato famine and countless other branches including some intertwining with Native Canadians.
So from my proud mixed Canadian roots from a tablespoon of Scottish and with a teaspoon of Metis mixed in as my mother liked to say.... came a family recipe for Bannock that I still make. An easy oven, stove or campfire, no yeast, fast bread, that is best enjoyed warm and fresh.
The first type of bannock apparently came to Canada with Scottish explorers who made it with barley and oatmeal, but the recipe was quickly adopted by the indigenous people, in particular the Métis using more commonly found ingredients. Earlier indigenous people made a form of bread from roots and native plants. During the early days of the fur traders and companies like the Hudson’s Bay Company, the fur trappers and the Indigenous people had access to wheat flour and lard and the more common “Canadian” form of bannock was born. It was a simple unleavened bread that could be made fast and easily over a fire or in an oven and traveled well. My family made it both ways both fried and baked. It is a very versatile bread that can be used for snacks, stews, and sandwiches and be kept for days. It can be stuffed with cheese or made more desert like with added sugar, blueberries, currents or raisins or topped with jam or syrup. I have seen so many different variations of bannock, with each person having their own family recipe and some fierce competition for the best recipe! Some add sugar, berries, spices or even peppers, onion, and garlic. Milk can replace some or all the water and some add an egg but the basic recipe was only five ingredients and easy to remember. It is a delicious fast and easy bread to make. The secret, however, is not overworking the dough.
2 cups flour
3 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening or oil (can use even butter or margarine)
¾ cup milk or water (approximate)
( Optional: If you want a sweeter treat, add 1 tbsp sugar and some currents or berries)
*Makes roughly 5 pieces or one large one
Mix dry ingredients first, then mix in oil or lard until crumbly, followed by gradually added milk or water and stir only enough until the dough just holds together and is not too sticky.
Move dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead only a few times to bring the dough together enough to shape several flattened balls by hand or use a cup rim to cut out circles. The dough will be sticky and soft but be sure not to over knead.
Cast iron pans work the best over the fire or stove with some oil to fry the bread but any pan will do. Or you can pop them into a hot oven (450F) 12-15 minutes or until done. If baking, pierce the top several times with a fork. If frying, flip it over and fry both sides until golden then place on paper towels afterwards to absorb excess oil. Cooking time will vary depending on the heat and thickness, so the timing is not exact.
Camping out and no pan? No problem
If you don’t have a frying pan, make a thicker dough by adding less water and roll the dough into a long ribbon (no wider than 1/2 inch when on the stick or it won't cook through). Wind or mold the dough around a preheated green, bark stripped, hardwood stick and cook about 8 -10 inches over a the coals in the fire, turning occasionally, until the bannock is cooked. ( about 10 minutes) . If the bread is still sticky inside when you take try to take it off the stick then cook it a little more. Preheating ( not burning) a stick prior to putting the dough on helps it cook better as well.