Jocasta’s “Auld Country” Scottish Bannock from Drums of Autumn

Jocasta’s “Auld Country” Scottish Bannock from Drums of Autumn

“I don’t quite understand, ” Brianna said.  “Did Mr. Berowne not want to admit that a woman hit him?”

“Ah, no,” Jamie said, pouring another cup of ale and handing it to her.  “It was only Sergeant Murchison making a nuisance of himself.”

“Sergeant Murchison?  That would be the army officer who was at the trial?” she asked.  She took a small sip of the ale, for politeness’ sake.  “The one who looks like a half-roasted pig?”

Her father grinned at this characterization.

“Aye that’ll be the man.  He’s a mislike of me,” he explained.  “This wilna be the first time — or the last — that he’s tried such a trick to cripple me.”

“He could not hope to succeed with such a ridiculous charge,” Jocasta chimed in, leaning forward and reaching out a hand.  Ulysses, standing by, moved the plate of bannocks the necessary inch.  She took one, unerringly, and turned her disconcerting blind eyes toward Jamie.

Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn, Chap 41

What is a bannock?  Well, that really depends upon where you are in the world.  The bannock I grew up with here on the Canadian west coast came from the diets of our First Nations; an unleavened dough of wheat flour, water and salt, molded over a stick and toasted over an open fire.  In other regions of North America, you may know bannocks as something slightly different.  There may be cornmeal and baking powder in the dough, and they could be deep fried, rolled in sand and cooked in a pit, or baked in the oven.  Traditional ingredients prior to Europeans included corn and nut flours, those ground from plant bulbs and tubers, as well as seasonal fruits and seeds.

In Scotland, where the term originates from the Gaelic bannach, meaning cake, bannocks were originally round, medium-sized flat breads made from a wet dough of barleymeal and/or oatmeal.  (Meal is an unsifted powder, coarser than flour, ground from any grain.)  They were cooked on a girdle, or griddle, and were cut into scones, or wedges.

In Scotland today, the term refers to any baked item similar in shape and size to the original bannock, and is also used to describe a large circular scone that has been scored into sections.  Wheat flour and baking soda are included in most modern recipes.

Confused?  I’ve been researching these for days, and I’m still a little unclear. The most important thing to remember is that a bannock is many things to many people.

bannock-dough

So what was Jocasta’s bannock like?

For all that she was a capable and powerful woman for her time, Jocasta was also a woman of tradition.  Unlike her older sister, Ellen, she obeyed her father and made a political marriage at a young age with a man she didn’t know.  When he died, she formed a second strategic match with another man who, to save his own life, took from her the most important things of all.

By the time we meet her, she is a sightless, three-time widow and the sole surviving sibling of a once powerful clan that has been shattered to rubble in her lifetime.  Despite it all, she is proudly (yet barely) managing a massive estate and operation in her newly adopted land.  It must all be a little surreal at times for a woman, who, when she was born, would never have been expected to leave the Highlands.

I imagine Jocasta turning to the familiar foods from her childhood to foster an atmosphere of calm in her dark and uncertain world.  Because while food nourishes, it can also comfort.

For me, in times of stress, it’s my Mom’s macaroni and cheese.  For Jocasta, it’s her auld-country Scottish bannocks.

making-bannocks

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Jocasta’s “Auld Country” Scottish Bannock

Yield: (1) 9-10” Bannock

A dense, but tasty and slightly nutty historical staple of the Scottish diet. Bannocks were originally made from barley or oat flour, as those grains are easier to grow than wheat in the harsh landscape of Scotland.

  • Rolled Oats –  1 Cup (180 ml)
  • Barley (Hulled or Pearl) – ¾ Cup (180 ml)
  • Salt – ½ tsp (3 ml)
  • Butter, room temp, cubed or Bacon Fat – 2 Tble (30 ml)
  • Milk, room temp – ⅓ Cup (80 ml)

Grind the oats to meal by pulsing them 4 or 5 times in a clean coffee grinder.  Repeat with the barley.  (The meals will have some coarser bits to them, but should be relatively fine.) Set aside ¼ cup of the ground oats for working the dough.

Mix the remainder of the 2 freshly ground flours together with the salt.  Cut the butter in with a pastry cutter or 2 forks until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  A few pea-sized lumps of butter are okay.

Stir in the milk — you should have a very wet dough, but not soupy – add a little more milk if the dough is too dry.  Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and set aside for 15 minutes to allow the grains to absorb the milk.

Preheat a cast-iron pan over med-low heat for 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto the counter dusted heavily with the remaining ground oats.  Dust the dough with more oat flour and knead it gently 5 or 6 times. Then, being careful not to overwork the dough, gently pat into a round disc about ½” thick.

Dust each side lightly with oat flour, mark a cross into one side of the bannock with the handle of a wooden spoon, then carefully transfer it to the dry cast iron pan.  Cook until golden, about 15 minutes.  Flip and cook until golden on the second side, about 10-15 minutes.  Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before cutting into 8 wedges.

Serve warm, preferably with butter and honey/jam.  Jocasta may have preferred hers plain, but that’s no reason for us not to enjoy ours at their new-world best, aye?

Notes:

  • I keep a second coffee grinder to grind small batches of grains and whole spices. To clean it in between grindings, run 3 tablespoons of rice through it for 30 seconds.  Discard the rice and admire your shiny, clean grinder…
  • Use a small plate as a template and cut around it if you’re having trouble getting a perfect round freehand.
  • These bannocks will keep for days, but by no means do they improve with age.  They’re really best hot off the pan.  Unless you’re serving them to a crowd at this month’s meeting of your Outlander Book Club, I suggest forming the dough into 6 or 8 small discs and refrigerating or freezing those you won’t eat right away.  Wrapped well, bannock dough will keep for 2 days in the fridge and 2 weeks in the freezer.  Defrost on the counter before cooking.

Ith do leòr! (Eat Plenty).

pan-of-small-bannocks

I am a professional chef, a food writer and an unabashed fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

20 Comments

  1. The Mom Chef ~ Taking on Magazines One Recipe at a Time

    These actually look good. I had no idea that was what a bannock is. I’d have never even guessed. I think I would want mine warm, with butter and jam. :)

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Oh look! Great minds think alike…that’s exactly how I ate mine. Homemade blackberry — who wouldn’t like that combination?

      Reply

  2. Kiri W.

    How interesting! I don’t think I’ve had anything close to a bannock, but it does look quite tasty :)

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Kiri, think of a bannock as a dense, heavy scone. I really enjoyed mine warm, with a little butter and jam.

      Reply

  3. Bri

    I tried to make bannocks last year from an old recipe that called for bacon grease, but since I’m vegetarian, I had to make some alterations. The end result was pretty disastrous…but your recipe is veggie, so I will definitely be trying it!

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Bacon grease bannocks, eh? I like bacon, but I’m not so sure about that ;)

      Reply

  4. Lee Ann

    I’m definitely going to try this one. I’ve been wanting to attempt bannocks for a while. I’ve done oatcakes…with bacon grease…

    Reply

    • Theresa

      And how did the bacon grease oatcakes taste, Lee Ann? I’m curious!

      Reply

  5. Lorry Elliott Vanden Dungen

    my family eats them while camping – only ours usually has raisins/blueberries or even wild saskatoons in them!!!! Wonderful while hot!!!!!

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Oooh, that sounds delicious, Lorry!

      Reply

  6. Carolyn

    Okay, these are so not the bannocks I grew up with, the bread we fried up on canoe trips in Algonquin Park. They do look delicious though!

    PS – I keep having trouble with your links on foodbuzz because you put an ellipsis prior to the http:// Just fyi that it reads the … as part of the address and then the link won’t work.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Thanks Carolyn — and weird…I wonder what I’m doing wrong? I’ll actually pay attention to what I paste in next time! Theresa

      Reply

  7. dawn

    Cooking these today for a living history event at an historic plantation in SC which was people in 1765 by a Scots family, their 8 kids and one slave.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Let us know how it goes, Dawn!

      Reply

  8. Bannocks at Castle Leoch - Outlander on STARZ Episode 102 - Outlander Kitchen

    […] Traditional bannocks from Mrs Fitz’s kitchens were dense round cakes of oat and/or barley flour, animal fat and water/milk,cooked on a griddle pan, or girdle. The cakes were split into 8 equal wedges (farls) and consumed, for the most part, while still warm. […]

    Reply

  9. kathy moore

    I don’t have a coffee grinder so could I make the ground up oats by pulsing with my magic bullet?

    Reply

  10. Patricia

    We have something similar in Newfoundland and I love them with molasses and butter. Lol it is the only way I eat molasses without it being cooked in something (cookies, home made baked beans).

    Reply

    • Theresa

      No doubt bannocks went on a wee journey with the Scots as they spread throughout the world!

      Reply

  11. Shayna

    Jocastas’s actually a three time widow. I’m going to try this recipe though. Looks good.

    Reply

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