From the Gaelic word bhannag, bannock came to Canada in the 1600s with Scottish adventurers and fur traders. It was a quick, simple bread cooked over an open fire while canoeing western rivers or hanging out in fur trade posts. These Scotsmen took local wives, passing their love of bannock to the First Nations and Métis communities.
Today, bannock is rarely celebrated as a touchstone of Scottish heritage, but it is indispensable to Métis and First Nations culture, celebration and connection. In Scotland, it was often made with oatmeal, but in Canada wheat flour became the norm. However, flour was heavy to carry in a canoe. Therefore, bannock was often a treat rather than a basic staple of the meal.
Outlying fur trade posts were expected to be self-sufficient in food, including flour. The first wheat field in what would become Saskatchewan was planted in 1754 by French fur traders at Forte a la Corne on the Saskatchewan River east of Prince Albert, now within the James Smith First Nation. No doubt, bannock was the outcome.
The basic ingredients were flour, water and shortening. With the advent of baking powder it was possible to make a lighter, fluffier bannock. French-speaking Métis called it galet. According to this recipe from the Métis Cookbook, adding raisins makes it "company bannock."
Bannock – Le Galet
3 cups flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening (margarine, butter, lard)
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup plus 2 tbsp water
In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.
Cut cold shortening into pieces. Work into the flour with a pastry blender and/or your fingers until it resembles coarse sand. Mix in raisins.
Make a well in the centre. Add 1 cup water and stir together with a fork. Add remaining 1-2 tbsp of water if needed to incorporate the flour.
Work dough into a ball, knead a few times and press firmly into a greased 10 inch cast iron frying pan. Bake at 400F for 30-35 minutes.
(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)