Traditional Scottish Barley Bannocks from Outlander on Starz

Barley Bannocks in the Thieves Hole - Outlander on STARZ Episode 111

There was a grating sound from overhead and a sudden shaft of light. I pressed myself against the wall, barely in time to avoid a shower of mud and filth that cascaded through a small opening in the roof of our prison. A single soft plop followed the deluge. Geilie bent and picked up something from the floor. The opening above remained, and I could see that what she held was a small loaf, stale and smeared with assorted muck. She dusted it gingerly with a fold of her skirt.

“Dinner,” she said. “Hungry, are you?”

Outlander, chapter 25, "Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live"

If she'd only stay put, as Jamie repeatedly asks, Claire would have a much easier time in the 18th C.

Free of BJR's slimy grasp for only a few days, she's now off to the Thieves' Hole with Geillis, and things are most definitely not looking up.

Claire Theive's Hole

Nothing like a little muck to go with your carb-laden dinner, right?

I've decided that we're going to forgo the muck and get straight to the main course.

barley meal

Barley has been a staple of the Highland diet for thousands of years. Long before the now ubiquitous oat appeared on the scene, crofters grew a primitive form of barley, called bere, which grew well despite a short growing season, harsh climate and poor soil.

Bere was eventually (mostly) replaced with higher yielding varieties of barley, which were then joined in the fields by oats,  and, ultimately, following the Scottish Agricultural Revolution, wheat.

barley bannock

Barley bannocks, oatmeal, oatcakes and vegetable pottages (stews) formed the basis of a poor Highlander's diet throughout the 18th Century.

It's true that Claire and Geillis wouldn't be considered poor in their everyday circumstances, but I think we're safe to assume that the guards didn't throw down a loaf made of imported wheat. More likely, it was made of barley.

bannock6 copy

I've made my bannocks a little thinner than what they would have been back then. A true 1/2" thick bannock is dense and heavy, and a lot to get down, in my opinion. I took my lead from the author of a fascinating read I recently finished, "The Garden Cottage Diaries - My Year in the Eighteenth Century."

The author, Fiona Houston, spent a full 4 seasons in a croft-like house, and became very familiar with the sort of subsistence nutrition that kept the Highlanders alive, often barely. She preferred a thinner bannock (her favourites were made with chicken fat), and I have to say I do too. If you prefer to try a thicker version, check the notes at the bottom of the recipe.

Barley Bannocks

Keep the cooked bannocks warm in a low oven until ready to serve. I served them with green onion and black pepper butter, which was delicious. A sweet compound butter like that on Mrs. Bug's Cinnamon Toast will give you a more dessert-like treat to munch on during the show.

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