Cooking Wild Recipe: Campfire Bannock

Here’s a recipe for the king of campfire breads: Bannock!

When I was kid growing up in Muskoka, ON, Dad and I did a lot of canoeing in the backwaters of Algonquin Park. Since there was usually a portage or two along many of the routes, everything that went into the pannier had to be, in Dad’s words, “light and tight,” thus a homemade bannock mix was our number one camp staple.

Bannock, in my book, is the king of campfire breads and I’m sure every outdoor enthusiast has probably made — or at least eaten — it along some wilderness trail! But I wonder how many of us have taken time out from wolfing down a wedge to ponder the origin of this hardy quick bread. I did and was surprised by what I unearthed!

For starters, I grew up under the impression that bannock was a traditional food of North American First Nations. It’s no wonder since dad always claimed we were having “Indian bread” for supper as he baked bannock on a rock over campfire coals. And also because, in spite of Dad’s disdain for the word, some of the fellows in our hunting party insisted its rightful name was “squaw bread.”

So, contrary to what I believed, we owe our thanks to the Scots — and not the First Nations — for this dependable bush bread. According to history, European fur traders and explorers introduced bannock — and the grinding of grains from which to make them, to the New World and in turn it became an important part of the indigenous peoples’ diet.

The word “bannock” is of Celtic origin, derived from the Latin word, panicium which refers to baked goods, or panis, meaning bread. It has been the daily bread of Scotland, Ireland and Northern England for almost as far back as history dates.

Original Old World Scottish bannock is best described as an unleavened (no yeast, sourdough starter or baking powder is used for rising power) bread made from oatmeal or barley flour.

The dough is formed into a flat round loaf and baked on a bannock stone (or “bannock stane,” as the Scots would say) over an open fire. When the bread it cut into serving sized pieces, the wedges are often called ‘scones’.

There are hundreds of recipes but only two categories to break bannock down into — traditional unleavened which is heavier with more body, or leavened which has a lighter texture.

I like them both but what I really enjoy about making bannock is experimenting with recipes. For instance, raisins or other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, shaker-style parmesan, dried onions, spices, herbs or anything else you fancy can be added to the Campfire Bannock Mix below to make sweet or savory breads that go great with cooked wild berries or fish and game stews.

When I’m travelling light, I’ll bake bannock on a flat rock over campfire coals just like dad taught me but if I can’t find a good cooking stone, I’ll mould the dough unto a stick and bake it over the fire, hot-dog style. Bannock can also be baked to perfection in a cast-iron skillet over hot coals.

If you think ‘Pigs in Blankets’ are good, you’ve got to try Bucks in Bannock! Simply thread a homemade venison sausage or smokie onto a willow stick, completely enclose the sausage in a jacket of bannock, pinching seam securely, and bake over hot coals until crust is golden brown and sausage is sizzling. Of course any sausage or wiener will do but then you’d have to change the name! You can smear mustard or anything else you fancy on the sausage before you wrap it up.

Dad’s Campfire Bannock Mix

Prepare this dry mix at home. It saves indefinitely; I haven’t had a batch go rancid yet so you can double or triple the recipe if needed.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons fat of choice — shortening, lard, butter or margarine (Dad’s original recipe calls for bear lard and it’s delicious)

Measure ingredients into bowl, using fork, break up fat into fine particles. Pack into zip-lock bag or airtight container and it’s ready to use on the trail. All you need to add is water.

To use, put needed amount of mix into bowl (1 cup makes one big bannock). Add enough water to make fairly stiff dough. Form dough into oval and flatten, prick with fork. Bake on hot rock or in cast-iron skillet until golden on bottom, flip and cook until slightly puffed and cooked through. The rock or pan can be greased if fat is in the pack.

Scottish Bannock

This Old World recipe produces a delightfully good bannock.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup barley flour
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fat of choice
  • Water

Mix dry ingredients. Cut fat into fine particles using a fork. Add enough water to make bread-like dough, form into a ball and dust with flour. Flatten to fit into a 10-inch greased skillet. Bake over coals until both sides are golden.

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