The story of bannock is mired in mystery. Whether it came from British settlers is debatable, but one thing is certain: bannock is the perfect backcountry snack
Ingredients commonly used by Indigenous communities for making bannock prior to the arrival of settlers were plentiful: maize, camas bulbs (a herb from the lily family), bracken rhizomes (the underground stems of ferns), tree sap, wood ash, animal fat. While the controversy around the roots of bannock continues, many Indigenous communities in the area embrace this fundamental component of a good meal. It’s considered the perfect food for those heading into the forest. After all, everything that goes into it is easily transportable.
Whether baked in sand or in a cast-iron pot over a fire, bannock can be mastered with patience and some elbow grease. An evening spent with Métis chef Wapokunie Riel-Lachapelle, owner of Nikosi Bistro Pub in Wakefield, revealed the magic behind the creation of the bread: combine some flour, baking powder, and salt; make a well in the centre and add some liquid bit by bit; fluff with a fork — it needs to be soft and continuously covered with flour; knead it until it isn’t sticky. When cooking the bread over an open fire, sprinkle some flour into the pan, then place the dough on top.
“The pot acts as an oven,” says Riel-Lachapelle. “You’ll know it’s ready when you tap it and it makes a hollow sound on both sides.” She likes adding ingredients based on the seasons. In fall, she might use stinging nettles, candied pecans, and nutmeg; in winter, she’ll add spruce needles; in spring, fresh dandelions, edible flowers, and maple butter.
For Riel-Lachapelle, bannock represents an important part of her personal and cultural story. Growing up, she says, “I brought bannock and pâté sandwiches to school. I wanted white bread and bologna. But looking back, it’s a staple in my life that I can recreate at the restaurant, learned from the elders.”
When Riel-Lachapelle makes a pasta dish, she’ll make parmesan bannock to go with it. Her favourite version is infused with wild blueberries (“they’re not overly sweet”), leaves in season, sea salt, and cracked pepper. Nikosi’s grilled cheese is prepared with blueberry bannock and is dressed up with duck confit, crispy kale, and caramelized onions.
Whether it arrived by boat from overseas or was already baking over an open fire, bannock is like a blank canvas that can be dressed up or down, baked or fried, indoors or out in nature. For those with a sense of adventure, tackling the recipe while trekking in the woods will offer a glimpse into how this simple foodstuff can be modified to make a hearty meal. “When I was a kid, there was a lot of stigma around traditions. Nowadays people are a lot more receptive.”
Nikosi Bistro Pub 721, ch. Riverside, Wakefield, Quebec