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.
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?”
Diana Gabaldon, Outlander (Chapter 25 – Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live)
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 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 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.
I’ve made my bannocks a little thinner than what they would have been back then. A true 1/2″ thick bannock, like this one I made for Jocasta, 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.
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.
(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe)
: A traditional recipe straight from the 18th Century Highlands. Best served hot off the girdle with butter and/or honey.
Yield: 8” Bannock
- Milk – 3 to 4 Tble
- Butter – 2 Tble (see notes)
- Salt – ½ tsp
- Barley Meal – 1 Cup, plus a little extra to flour the board (see notes)
Combine the milk, butter and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the butter melts.
Add the hot liquid to the barley meal in a large bowl, and mix to form a slightly sticky dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Preheat a cast iron pan over medium low heat for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, on a lightly floured board, pat the dough into a flat disc then roll out to an 8” circle, ¼” thick. Cut into 4 quarters and cook in the pan until golden, about 5 minutes per side.
Serve warm with butter and honey, or make up your own compound butter with your favourite flavourings.
- I live on a small island, far away from a grocery store that carries barley meal. I made my own by grinding pot (or pearl) barley in my extra coffee/spice grinder. A food processor will also work, but the barley will scratch and cloud the plastic bowl badly – so be prepared.
- In a coffee grinder, grind the barley in small batches, then sieve into a bowl and return the large pieces back to the grinder. You want a relatively even, well ground meal that resembles a cross between wheat flour and granulated sugar.
- Any animal fat will work here, or use coconut oil for a vegan alternative. The tastiest batch we’ve had is the one I made with the fat left after I fried up some Pancetta.
- Want to hear a secret? I was a little short on barley meal, so I made it up with oatmeal…just in case the same thing happens to you.
- If you prefer to try a thicker bannock, double the recipe then roll the dough out to an 8” circle, ½” thick. Heat the pan over low and cook 10- minutes per side, until lighly browned and cooked through.