Native American Bannock bread
Well another busy week over. I have been thinking all week about possible topics for an article. Then, it dawned on me: Emily, write about bannock! The bread of the Native people, the bread of our ancestors. And such a simple bread to make. So let’s take a look at the history of bannock, and at my personal recipe for it 🙂
First off, what is bannock?
Bannock is also know as fry bread. That’s it. Done. Bannock is fry bread 😉 Ok ok, let’s talk about it some more. The word Bannock actually stems from the old English word bannuc which meant a morsel. More so, it has a Scottish origin of all places! If you read novels set in Old England or Scotland, you might read about the bannock they were eating.
Thus, bannock or fry bread is not exclusive to the Aboriginal people and can be found across different nations of the world, including Africa for example. I have a friend whose family is from South Africa. The first time I made bannock, he said: “OMG, fry bread like my mom used to make! But it is not as salty as hers”. So different locations, different recipes!
Bannock of the Aboriginal people
So how did bannock make it to Canada? Well it is not all that clear. But there is some evidence that it was eaten by Europeans fur traders when they arrived in Canada. It was then known under different names: bannock, bannaq, galette and made with flour, water and sometimes fat. Whereas, the Scottish version was mostly made with oats or barley. However, at the time of the fur traders, flour was not that easily acquired in America. Corn flour or plants rather than wheat flour would have been more easily found. Therefore, the belief that bread was not available before the arrival of Europeans has not been demonstrated. Instead, it is more plausible that bread was made by the Indigenous people but using natural ingredients (may it be lichen or corn) rather than wheat. As flour was a luxury item, not readily used but rather saved for special occasions. Preparing bannock on an open fire (either in the ashes of the fire or in a frying pan over the fire). I would say that Europeans learned from the cooking of the people of the land, how they used the land to gather strength and nutrients.
Why is it called fry bread then?
As I just said, bannock used to be prepared as big biscuit and baked in a big frying pan or propped on sticks by the fire. Or even wrapped around sticks. It was made very simply with water, flour, salt and a bit of fat (lard or bacon grease). Over time, although it was still prepared in a skillet, people began adding oil to fry it. It was either baked as a big biscuit or cut into wedges or rounds. Or even in the shape of doughnuts! As for the recipe, around the mid 1800’s, it became a tad more elaborate. Butter, buttermilk, baking powder were sometimes added. Nothing fancy by today’s standards but more elaborate back then considering their nutrition.
However, as it is fry bread, even though it has been a staple of the Native culture, a big part of traditions and part of the Indigenous people’s nutrition, it should not be eaten every day. Yes although it is not soaked in oil, it is still cooked in it. Yes technically you could have it baked in the oven. But really, once one has had fry bannock, there is no going back! Alright, now on to my personal bannock recipe. Although everyone says their recipe is the best (big competition here!), mine really is 🙂
My bannock recipe
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cup warm water
a pinch of salt
one tsp of yeast
one tsp baking powder
Mix warm water and yeast and add to dry ingredients. Knead in a ball and covered in a bowl and let rest for 45 minutes. This will give time for the yeast to activate. Roll out (about 1/3 inch thick) and cut into wedges. Drop in hot oil and fry about 2 minutes max per side. Or until brown and bubbles form. Sponge off on a paper towel. The bannock will be all fluffy and light. Eat with lard (as our ancestors did), with peanut butter and jam (sold at every Pow wow I have been to), or rolled in sugar and cinnamon. I have made it a tradition to bring my own bannock at work and give it to clients. I now get requests on how they want it (“you should make it with sugar and cinnamon”)!. They say food brings people together. It is especially true of bannock 🙂
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