Hunting Camp Journal
Bannock, the Bread of Adventurers
Bannock, the word itself has a ring of adventure to it, if you have ever read many books or articles about the early days of exploration of North America. There are lakes and streams in the far north that have been named after this famous bread, and I have seen more than one sled dog that was named Bannock.
The European version of bannock originated in Scotland and was made traditionally of oatmeal. The first European explorers to the far north of America brought bannock with them and it became the bread of the wilderness. From the early 1700s until today, those who spend much of their time in the backcountry depend upon this simple but delicious bread.
I learned to love bannock while exploring the Arctic and brought the basic recipe back to Alabama to cook. It became a hit with all who tried it and remains a favorite in my hunting camp.
The following is how to make basic bannock. The basic mix is given here in one-person proportion. It can be mixed in advance and will stay fresh for several weeks if kept in a sealable plastic bag. Since this is good trail bread it can be easily carried in a pack, if stored in a sealed plastic bag.
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons powdered skim milk
1 teaspoon double-action baking powder
Add enough cold water to the bannock mix to make a soft dough. Mold this rapidly, with as little handling as possible, into a cake about 1 inch thick and lay into a hot cast iron skillet.
The reason for handling the bannock as little as possible is that when the liquid is added to the dry mix, it releases gas from the baking powder. The gas causes the dough to rise. Rough handling can cause the gas to escape, leaving you with flat, hard bread. It is worthy to note that cold water releases the gas much more slowly than warm, giving more time to form the bread and get it into the pan.
Cooking in Camp Fire
Once the bannock is in the hot skillet, hold it over the fire until crust forms on the bottom, and then turn it over. Now prop the skillet at a steep angle in front of the fire so that the loaf will receive a lot of heat on top. When it looks golden brown, test it for doneness by sticking a twig in the loaf. If the dough sticks, the loaf needs to cook longer. After you have cooked bannock awhile, you will learn to tap it with your finger and gauge by the hollow sound when it is done. It usually takes about 15 minutes to cook.
The Cree Indians I have camped with cook their bannock by pressing the dough flat and cutting it into 1 inch strips. They wind these spirally around a green stick. Hold over a bed of coals, turning the stick so that the bread browns evenly.
Bannock can also be cooked in an oven at 350° for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Native Bannock Bread
Here is a bannock recipe I got from the aboriginal people of Canada.
6 cups of flour
1 cup of lard
3 tablespoons of baking power
1 tablespoon of salt
2 cups of raisins
3 ½ cups of water
In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the flour and lard together by hand. Then add the baking power, salt and the raisins. Next add the water and work the ingredients into a dough. Spread the dough out into a 16 inch square cake pan. Bake at 425° for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
To cook over a camp fire, divide the dough into four equal lumps and firmly wrap each lump around the end of a four-foot food stick and prop securely over the fire until golden brown.
Bannock is Versatile
The bannock mix can be used for pancakes, dumplings, cakes and rolls. It is an easy bread to have in camp regardless of whether you are cooking on a stick, modern oven, Dutch oven, reflector oven or sheepherder’s stove.
Editor’s Note: J. Wayne Fears has written a 144-page book on all types of wilderness cooking, including bannock bread, titled The Field & Stream Wilderness Cooking Handbook. It is available for $20.95, including shipping, from Backcountry Books, P. O. Box 187, Owens Crossroads, AL 35763.
J Wayne Fears is the author of the book Hunt Club Management Guide and the editor of Hunting Camp Journal Magazine, a magazine for the hunter who manages the land and wildlife, www.huntingcampjournal.com.