“Bannock”; it’s not just a made-up word that shows up as a stumbling block in a sixth grade spelling bee. It’s the original North American camping bread with heritage attributed to native northern tribes such as the Nunavut and the Cree.
Bannock ingredients are simple and exceedingly portable. It can be quickly prepared in camp and cooked over an open fire by any of several methods. It’s not a high-rise yeast bread, but acquires some loft usually from a chemical leavening.
Recipes for mixing up a batch of bannock are pretty standard. Flour, salt, and baking powder are the universal dry ingredients. Some recipes add a little bit of sugar and/or powdered milk. Also required are a bit of shortening and some water. The recipe that follows provides basic proportions, but experiment until you find what works just right for you.
For camping trips…whether deep into the wilderness or a few feet from your car… you can premix the dry ingredients in proper proportions and store it in zippered plastic bags. If you don’t put too many miles on them before you use them, these bags can serve as mixing vessels for your bannock dough as well.
Most traditionally, bannock is made plain and served alongside wild game meats or other foods foraged along the route or near camp. However, it’s a natural for adding a bit of sweetness by including a handful of raisins, dried cranberries or even fresh blueberries in the dough. Butter, honey, and jam all go great on bannock.
Bannocks biggest controversy is in the “authentic” way to cook it over a campfire. There are three basic options. If I have the luxury of a cast iron skillet and a little oil, my favorite way of preparing bannock is rolling the dough into discs just thicker than ½-inch and frying it to a golden brown. You can also sort of bake it in the skillet using reflected heat, which is slow, but works pretty well and gives you more of a rise on the loaf.
However, if you’re working from a pack on your back, cast iron’s too damn heavy to tote. So, you can either form a loaf and bake it in several layers of aluminum foil on the low heat of old coals (or buried in a pit of coals) or you can form long strips of dough about 3/8 of an inch thick and an inch wide and wrap them around the end of a green stick. You then carefully bake the dough over the coals and low flame much like you’re toasting a marshmallow.
Bannock is storied as the preferred camping bread of famous folks like Lewis & Clark, Kit Carson, Daniel Boone and many others, so next time you’re looking to mix a history lesson with your camping trip, whip up some bannock to go along with your beans…the whole crew will be glad you did.
- 3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. baking powder
- ½ cup powdered milk
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ¼ cup shortening (lard, bacon grease, melted butter, canola oil)
- 2 cups water (approximately)
- Additional oil if you’ll be frying in a skillet or Dutch Oven
- Mix dry ingredients well in large bowl or zipper close plastic bag.
- Add shortening; work it into dry ingredients until you get an even meal consistency.
- Add about half of the water and start to stir and mix with a fork.
- Keep adding water and mixing until you get a good kneadable dough consistency. DO NOT make it a thin batter.
- Turn out the dough onto a floured flat surface (another plastic bag or waxed paper) and knead for a minute or two.
- Press into paddies about ¾-inch thick for frying or a general loaf shape for baking.
- Cook until a deep golden brown on both sides, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Photo courtesy of Dan McKay.