A young Highlands reader requested a recipe for bannocks. I just happen to have a good one…there are many variations, of course, but the basic recipe is very simple and has endured for centuries: mix uncooked oatmeal with a little melted fat, a dash of salt, and just enough water to make a thick dough, and form into flattened balls. Fry ’em on a hot griddle like pancakes. Yum.
That’s the bare-bones version. (I’m doing a lot of bare-bones versions of things this week, aren’t I?) Here’s the good recipe I mentioned, a teensy bit more sophisticated, but still the simple, traditional, basic bannock. It comes from Rampant Scotland, which has an extensive collection of authentic Scottish recipes, including cock-a-leekie soup, shortbread, and (shudder) haggis.
4 oz (125g) medium oatmeal
2 teaspoons melted fat (bacon fat, if available)
2 pinches of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
Pinch of salt
3/4 tablespoons hot water
Additional oatmeal for kneading
Mix the oatmeal, salt and bicarbonate and pour in the melted fat into the centre of the mixture. Stir well, using a porridge stick if you have one and add enough water to make into a stiff paste. Cover a surface in oatmeal and turn the mixture onto this. Work quickly as the paste is difficult to work if it cools. Divide into two and roll one half into a ball and knead with hands covered in oatmeal to stop it sticking. Roll out to around quarter inch thick. Put a plate which is slightly smaller than the size of your pan over the flattened mixture and cut round to leave a circular oatcake. Cut into quarters (also called farls) and place in a heated pan which has been lightly greased. Cook for about 3 minutes until the edges curl slightly, turn, and cook the other side. Get ready with another oatcake while the first is being cooked.
An alternative method of cooking is to bake them in an oven at Gas5/375F/190C for about 30 minutes or until brown at the edges. The quantities above will be enough for two bannocks about the size of a dessert plate. If you want more, do them in batches rather than making larger quantities of mixture. Store in a tin and reheat in a moderate oven when required.
Catholic Culture records one old Scottish tradition involving bannocks:
Bannocks were baked before daybreak on Christmas morning. One was given to each member of the family. They were often flavored with caraway. The cake was marked in quarters by the cross, but, thin as it was, each person had to keep his cake whole through all of Christmas day. If, when the evening feast came, the cake were broken, bad fortune would fall on the careless one’s head. If the cake were still Christ’s bread, whole and entire, then joy and prosperity would be forthcoming.
Then of course there is the May Day custom I wrote about in Highlands: marking bannocks with a cross before they are baked and rolling them down a hill on the first of May, hoping one’s own oatcake made it to the bottom in one piece. A bannock that broke on the way down boded no good for its owner…
I will add this recipe to the Martha page.
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