Bannock: my authentic Canadian food memory


This post is part of The Canadian Food Experience Project; a commitment by food bloggers/writers across Canada to post on a common monthly topic in celebration of Canadian food culture. This month's task is to write about a first authentic Canadian food memory.

Every time I hear the beat of an Aboriginal drum I think, "Oh boy, here we go." Not because I don't like it but because I do. My eyes well up. Every. Single. Time. Which is really inconvenient when you're a news reporter (like I used to be) or a media relations professional (like I was after I stopped being a reporter) because at cultural and government news conferences where Aboriginal drummers and dancers occasionally perform, you need to be apart from the experience and not part of it. There's something about the boom of the drum and the wail of voices that glues my feet to the ground, forcing me to swallow the lump in my throat while looking down at my notes to hide the mist in my eyes. I admire that man in his feathers and his leathers. I admire his sureness of self-identity, his connection to tradition, and the rawness of his artistry.

On a cold day in 2006 I drove my car onto the Tsawwassen reserve, which stretches along the waterfront of the Lower Mainland south of Vancouver, and found the distinctive longhouse where I was to prepare for a big news conference. The Tsawwassen First Nation was welcoming the provincial and federal governments to initial the Tsawwassen Treaty, the first urban treaty in British Columbia. A large fire was being stoked in the centre of the longhouse, filling the air with smoke and setting the scene for the historic moment. The ceremony started with drumming and dancing and, of course, my misty eyes. After the ceremony, as the ink and my eyes dried, everyone celebrated with a buffet-style feast. Always on duty, I shied away from sampling the incredible offerings - salmon and vegetables and something called bannock, which I had embarrassingly never heard of before. But when one of the cooks heard me say that she insisted I try some. She excitedly offered me a sampling of the fried bread, telling me a little more about it. Every family has a favourite way of making it, she said. It's either enjoyed as is or served with savoury dishes and sometimes it goes in the dessert direction with the addition of sugar and cinnamon. She was sharing with me one of the foundations of her food culture. I felt good inside that day, and only partly because of the fried bread.


When I thought about what kind of bannock recipe I wanted to share in this post, my mind started dreaming up savoury cheese bannocks and sweetened dried fruit bannocks. But I decided instead to go back to the source. I contacted the Tsawwassen First Nation and told them I was looking for an authentic Tsawwassen recipe that I could share here. I was generously sent a copy of a recipe which I'm told is from a recipe collection called 'Feasting with Tsawwassen.' In the end, I couldn't help giving it a little of my own flair with the addition of some fresh herbs from my back yard. I also cut the recipe in half to suit a family of four.

Here's how I made it:
serves 4

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp baking powder
3 tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp granulated white sugar
1 tbsp salt
lukewarm water (up to 1 cup)
cooking oil (enough to fill a frying pan 1/2-inch deep - bacon fat, suet, lard, vegetable shortening and vegetable oil are all options. I used canola oil.)

In a large mixing bowl, I whisked together the flour, baking powder, herbs, sugar and salt. Using a wooden spoon, I gently stirred in the water until the flour was incorporated into the dough, being careful not to over mix. I heat the oil over medium heat (it shouldn't be smoking) and divided the dough into four tennis ball sized pieces. Each ball was flatted to about 1/2-inch thickness with my fingers. The pieces of dough were fried in the hot oil, one or two in the pan at a time, for 3-4 minutes. Then, using two spatulas, I carefully flipped them over to fry another 3-4 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. I let the bannock drain on a dinner plate lined with paper towel until cool enough to eat.

I want to thank Andrew Bak at the Tsawwassen First Nation for generously sending me the recipe. He tells me there will be a bannock cook off at the Tsawwassen celebrations for National Aboriginal Day, which is coming up on June 21st, 2013.

For more information about The Canadian Food Experience Project, visit founder Valerie Lugonja's blog A Canadian Foodie or follow along on the Facebook page.

Do you have an interesting bannock recipe or story to share? Leave a comment and tell me all about it.

17 comments:

  1. oh that looks so comforting, and yummy! xo

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    1. Like other fried doughs (hello, doughnuts!) it's pretty delicious.

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    2. If you asked for a recipe to post,you should of stuck to the original & not change it to suit yourself.Yours looks & probably taste great,but I'd like to see the original you were given.

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  2. Bannock was also my first authentic Canadian food memory! It's quite popular on the prairies and I love mine with Saskatoon Berry Jam :-)

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    1. I know a Saskatooner here in Victoria who misses his Saskatoon berry jam.

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  3. I LOVE bannock!!! But I prefer it cooked traditionally over a fire!! I can't wait to try this recipe. And I am ALL over that bannock cook off! Thanks for the tip

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    1. You're welcome. I want to try bannock over a fire this summer when we go camping. Do you make it on a stick? Got any tips on how to keep it from falling off?

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  4. On the other side of the lake there is a restaurant owned by the native population that serves bannock. In fact Kekuli Cafe was on an episode of the Canadian show, "You've Got to Eat Here." Loe the bannock in cinnamon sugar. They even have bannock burgers.

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    1. Thank you so much for telling me about Kekuli Cafe. I just Googled them and found this wonderful video by the cafe's owner, Sharon Bond, making bannock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD75gzfbesg&feature=youtu.be
      She seems LOVELY. I will definitely go find Kekuli next time I'm out that way. Thanks again for your comment!

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  5. That looks fantastic!
    I have not had bannock since I was a child.
    It was something I enjoyed along with Buffalo burgers at an Aboriginal event I attended in Edmonton many years ago.

    I look forward to trying this recipe. From what I remember bannock is wonderful.

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    1. Buffalo burgers on bannock. Say THAT five times fast!

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  6. gabriola dwellerJune 7, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    hi amy
    For our church's 'the great gold rush' kids club theme we made up 75 little muslin bags and the kids ironed an old style label on the front and put the dry makings of bannock in them and then took them home. My boys and some friends had great fun cooking them over a fire in the cast iron frying pan. Black on the outside and raw on the inside but still yummy specially with sugar and cinnamon.
    i'm still recommending your blog to all my friends and relations. thanks.

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    1. What a nice project for the kids! Craft, cooking and culture all in one. Thanks for all your support :)

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  7. Amy,
    What an answer to my prayers this post is. Truly. To have the authentic recipe given to you is such a blessing. May I please have a copy of the one that they sent to you? This is a huge personal interest of mine, and a work in progress with Slow Food Canada, as well. Would you mind doing a letter of introduction to your contact on the reserve,as I would love to get a copy of the recipe book. What a special story you have shared, as well. Never heard of bannock, and interestingly, many believe it is a national aboriginal Canadian food, when there really is no such thing with so many varied First Nations groups. Bannock is a West Coast food and part of the Potlatch, is my understanding. But I want to understand SO much more...
    Big hug,
    Thrilled you have joined the project - and what do you do now?
    Valerie

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    1. Hi Valerie - I'm glad you enjoyed my story. Thanks for getting us all organized in The Canadian Food Experience Project! I will e-mail you the Tsawwassen recipe as I received it from the First Nation, and I'll include the contact information for Andrew Bak.
      As for what I do now, I'm a stay-at-home mama to two loud little boys :)
      Amy

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  8. Hi Amy, as a fellow participant in the Canadian Food Experience Project and Vancouver Islander (I am in Ladysmith), I want you to know how much I appreciated this beautifully written piece. I have been privileged to work in First Nation communities across the island and the sound of drums has always had that effect on me. Last month I got to try fry bread with home made blackberry preserves and wished I could make some myself. Now, thanks to you, I can!

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    1. Hi Lyndsay,
      Thanks for reading, and thanks for letting me know I'm not alone in watching dancing a drums through misty eyes. Blackberries aren't too far away now!
      Amy @ Family Feedbag

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