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

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

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

39 Comments

  1. 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. 🙂

    • Theresa
      November 21, 2011 at 2:15 pm

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

  2. Kiri W.
    November 21, 2011 at 10:50 am

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

    • Theresa
      November 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

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

  3. Bri
    November 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    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!

    • Theresa
      November 21, 2011 at 4:21 pm

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

  4. Lee Ann
    November 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

    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…

    • Theresa
      November 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm

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

  5. Lorry Elliott Vanden Dungen
    November 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm

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

    • Theresa
      November 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Oooh, that sounds delicious, Lorry!

  6. Carolyn
    November 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    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.

    • Theresa
      November 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm

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

  7. dawn
    April 6, 2013 at 3:30 am

    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.

    • Theresa
      April 6, 2013 at 11:31 am

      Let us know how it goes, Dawn!

  8. kathy moore
    August 13, 2014 at 11:24 am

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

    • Theresa
      August 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      I don’t see why not!

  9. Patricia
    August 13, 2014 at 11:32 am

    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).

    • Theresa
      August 13, 2014 at 1:25 pm

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

  10. Shayna
    August 16, 2014 at 9:10 pm

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

  11. Sue
    August 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I grew up in Nova Scotia & one of my favourite things was baking powder biscuits (made with lard or shortening), hot from the oven with butter & molasses. Likely started out being bannock but over the years it evolved into this. I have not made baking powder biscuits in years but I plan on trying out Jocasta’s bannock. I love whole grains. Thanks for doing such a great job of the Outlander Kitchen website for all of us Jamie (swoon) & Clare fans !

    • Sue
      August 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      I can’t believe I misspelled Claire !! Sorry.

  12. Brooke
    September 4, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Just tried to make these…didn’t go well. Very dry, broke apart before I could even get into pan. And broke all apart when tried to flip. Suggestions?

    • Theresa
      September 6, 2014 at 6:48 am

      What a shame! My suggestion would be to first try a little more water?

  13. Camille
    December 4, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I’ve made scones for my grandchildren for years which it turns out is a more sophisticated bannock. I don’t think that Jocasta would hold would todays’ modern bannock like mine with cranberries which didn’t grow there. But in Jocastas’ time, she used what was available to her or what could be procured from the outlining neighborhood.

  14. Ramona
    March 24, 2015 at 3:30 am

    This is how my mother made bannocks when I was a kid, more than 50 years ago, in California. Nice to find your recipe. I couldn’t remember much about them except that she made them with simple ingredients, and cooked them on a griddle, one large circle cut into 8 triangles. They were crispy and good split and served with butter and jam.

  15. Kimberley
    May 11, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Got my first bannock cooking now, such a joy to make using simple ingredients, looking forward to trying it! I am quite tempted to cook a couple of rashers of bacon and an egg to go with, does that sound od?!

    • Theresa
      May 11, 2015 at 1:18 pm

      Nope, sounds delicious!

  16. Laura S
    September 12, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you for this recipe! I’m vegan, so I used coconut oil for butter and water for milk. I was so eager to make it that I just used wheat flour the first time. They came out savory and delicious with my potato stew. The second time, I ground oats and barley in my blender before making them again with coconut oil and water. I burnt them because I got distracted, but the bits that weren’t charred tasted very hearty, and I agree are perfect for jam!

  17. riza walker
    October 9, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Going to try these today; )

  18. Danna Stamper
    October 9, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    My grandmother would make apparently all types of “bannocks”. Of course she mostly used flour and corn meal If she had left over mashed potatoes, she made potato cakes and if there were left over pinto beans, she made bean cakes! All fried in lard/bacon grease of course. And all delicious.

  19. Diane
    November 14, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Just a quick comment about the barley bannocks recipe. Personally, I know I would love this recipe even not having made it but I will soon. My opinion is, we also eat with our eyes and our heart. Yes, taste and texture is also important (try tasting and chewing with your eyes closed), the fragrance that fills the kitchen when something is in the works can paint a picture before it even reaches your mouth. All of these senses take part in the kitchen and create an excitement and anticipation for me when trying something new. My Mom, born and raised in Scotland, loves when I make scones for her when she visits. I certainly don’t make them the way her Mom did but it starts her reminiscing just the same.

  20. Robert
    December 16, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    I found if you grind the barley and Oates too fine, such as in a Nutra Bullet (an effortless chore using the grinding blade), the recipe requires more milk, about 1 1/2 that stated in the recipe. These taste lovely and full of excellent fiber.

    • Theresa
      December 17, 2015 at 7:08 am

      Thanks, Robert!

  21. Cynthia
    February 24, 2016 at 10:18 am

    A lady after my own heart! I have an obsession with both cooking and history and just so happen to be a huge fan of the Outlander series too. Such a pleasant surprise to come across your site! Going to try these after work!

    • Theresa
      February 24, 2016 at 11:50 am

      Welcome, Cynthia! Great to have you here.

  22. peggy reed
    May 20, 2016 at 10:46 am

    i grew up in the ozarks in ark. we often ate fried hoecakes much the same as bannacks, but made of flour and fried ina little oil in skillet,this was when we didnt have a oven

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