“I don’t quite understand, ” Brianna said. “Did Mr. Browne 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.
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.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)
Yield: (1) 9” 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.
- 1/4 cup whole milk or water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup coarsely ground rolled oats or pearl barley, plus additional for rolling
In a small saucepan, combine the milk, butter and salt and heat over medium flame until the butter melts. Add the hot liquid to the ground oats or barley in a large bowl and stir to form a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, roll teh dough out to an 8-inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick.
Heat a cast-iron pan over medium-low for 5 minutes. Cut the dough into quarters and cook in the pan until golden, about 5 minutes per side.
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?
- Subsitute any animal fat, such as bacon, or use coconut oil for a vegan alternative. The tastiest batch I recall is one I made with the fat left after frying pancetta.
- 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).