Back in the 18th century, every day was a survival situation for most people in North America. Obtaining and eating foods with a high-calorie intake was a significant challenge. The taste wasn’t a priority back then, and people were looking for calories and durability. Such food is the bannock or Indian bread, and it is made even today on the trail.
Many families relied on bannock because they were able to keep it in all weather and it stayed fresh for long periods of time. In fact, bannock was a vital staple food on the Oregon Trail. It is one of the survival foods that preppers should learn to make, and you can find it in the same league as pemmican, jerky, and hardtack. These foods will help you survive in these modern times, should you find yourself in a crisis.
What is bannock?
To put it in a few words, bannock is a round, heavy and sometimes unleavened bread. Most mountain men call it a flat cake. It is the closest thing to bread they had back then, and it was easy to make on the trail. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones.
Bannock is also known as Indian bread, and it can be found throughout North American Native cuisine. Even the Inuit of Canada and Alaska are making bannock, and this bread recipe can be found in the culture of other Alaska Natives as well.
Bannock is made from four simple ingredients: flour, salt, fat and baking powder. Back in the day, they used bacon grease or rendered buffalo fat, but today is cooking oil is used instead of fat. Indian bread is usually prepared with white or whole wheat flour. Historically, in fact, Bannock was more likely to be made without any leavening. Now, though, they are often leavened with baking powder as modern tastes have changed.
Since taste wasn’t a priority and people were looking for calories and durability, the original recipe has been altered over the years. Most campers or mountain men started to add sugar, honey, wild berries oatmeal or powdered milk to improve its taste.
The advantage of bannock is that it can last for up to a week or longer. It all depends on how you manage to store it.
How to make bannock
As I said before, there’s not much to making Indian bread and all you need is a little practice and the right attitude. This recipe can be made during your camping trips, and it’s a great skill to pass to the younger generations.
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Bacon grease
To make bannock, you can use a cast iron frying pan like the pioneers, or you can use the method of the Native Americans. The original way of cooking bannock is to wrap the thick dough around dry, peeled sticks and cook it over the fire.
Start by mixing the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add some bacon grease and slowly add water to thicken. Mix the ingredients and keep adding water until you obtain a thick mixture, like putty.
Related reading: Survival Lessons From The Native Americans
Cooking it using a cast iron frying pan
Get a small cast iron frying pan and oil it well. Let the pan warm over the fire and pour the dough into the pan. You can spread it using a wooden spatula or your hands (pay attention, or you will burn your fingers). When you pour the dough into the pan, you shouldn’t hear any hiss or sizzle like a pancake batter. If that’s the case, the cast iron frying pan is too hot, and you need to let it cool.
Your bannock will start to look like a loaf after a few minutes, and you will need to flip it over. All you need is to shake the pan a little and use a wooden spatula to do so. You will need to keep flipping it until it gets a brown crust and the crust starts breaking and reveals a yellow core.
Cooking it on sticks over a campfire
Once you make the dough, roll it into a long narrow strip. Peel a couple of dry sticks and wrap it around them, so it’s no more than ½-inch thick.
To cook bannock using this method, you will need to keep the sticks away from open flames. Cook it slowly over the coals until it gets a brownish color, and it can be peeled easily from the stick.
To improve the taste, you can add butter, more bacon grease or even berries or other dry fruits. It will enhance the flavor, but it will shorten its shelf life.
How long does bannock last?
This all depends on how you handle and store your dough. For example, the uncooked dough can be kept for months if stored in a dry place, wrapped in waxed paper. Once you cook bannock, you will be able to keep it for a week or two in colder environments. You will need to store it in a cool, dry place. It will eventually mold due to the grease you added.
Another trick to keep cooked bannock last longer is to eliminate the grease. You will need just water to thicken, and it will last much longer. However, I have to warn you that the taste will be very bland.
Baking Indian bread in the wilderness is not a hard job, and it will reward you with the comfort of home. You will be able to enjoy some warm bread while choking down some jerky or pemmican. Most people already carry a cast iron frying pan or a Dutch oven for their camping trips, but even if you lack those tools, you shouldn’t panic. As you saw, cooking bannock over some coals using nothing more than a few peeled sticks is a kid’s job. This Native American food will keep you fed when you explore the wilderness back trails, and it’s an excellent skill to master and pass on.