Light up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me;
I’ve got to watch the bannock bake — how restful is the air!

-“While the Bannock Bakes” by Robert Service

There has been a resurgence in bread baking since the advent of Covid-19.

My go-to, simple bread is bannock. To bake this storied bread all you need is a handful of household ingredients, a cast iron frying pan and a source of heat. I prefer open coals because they remind me of its wild roots.

Bannock is a simple fry bread that has its origins in Scotland. During the early years of the Hudson Bay Company (founded in 1670), many Scots were recruited to sail to North America. Once landed, in what was to become northern Canada, they helped establish trading posts to barter with the indigenous people for furs to ship back to England. These early traders, voyageurs and trappers had to fend for themselves for months on end without the help of resupply.

Eventually making bannock became more associated with First Nation peoples. And to this day, many families take great pride in their bannock baking skills.

Each time I tend a bannock I am reminded of past versions. There was the delicious deep dish pizza along the remote Wind River in the northern Yukon Territory. Winter camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness outings have included lunch bannocks with left over bits and pieces of fried lake trout folded into the batter. Memorable lunches on the wild Gladys River in the Yukon included shredded cheese or sunflower seeds blended into the mix before frying the bannock.

Bannock is a versatile bread. A morning fire is perfect in fending off the chill and for boiling up a pot of cowboy coffee. Pair it with a breakfast bannock and you will be fueled for another day on the trail. Adding fresh picked blueberries, raspberries, currants, or even dried apples or raisins will perk up the most lethargic campers.

I have turned to it several times over the last half year. On a recent morning, while baking a bannock, augmented with raspberries, in our kitchen woodburning stove I committed two sins. First, I overworked the batter after adding water to the mixed dry ingredients. Secondly, I was impatient. I should have let my coals burn down a bit more. With too much heat I was worried I would burn the bannock so I pulled it from the coals earlier than I should have. The result was a bannock that didn’t rise like it should have and was slightly doughy.

My preferred recipe comes from Edna Helms. She is a Carcross/Tagish First Nation Elder living in in the Yukon Territory. Well known for her bannock making skills, she leans towards a sweeter bannock. I am including her recipe here. I have adapted the recipe to make one 8-10 inch diameter cake of bannock.

Edna Helm’s Best Bannock

1.5 C flour 

1/4 C sugar  (you can reduce this if you want to reduce sweetness, a good idea when making a more savory bannock)

2 tsp baking powder 

1/4 tsp salt

Mix all dry ingredients

3-4 C water (The key here is to add only enough water until the dough has a biscuit-like texture. Some folks use milk or you can carry dry milk and add to water)

Put frying pan on or just above the coals and add 1/3 C solid vegetable shortening or cooking oil. Note: You can also bake a bannock over a stovetop burner.

The bannock will rise. Gently flip it. You are aiming for a golden top and bottom. Be patient, making sure to not let the frying pan get too hot or you will scorch the bannock. After 10-15 minutes, test the bread by poking it with a sharp stick or knife blade for doneness.

And if you feel like it light up a pipe while your bannock bakes.

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