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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.