Bannock is a variety of flat quick bread. The word can also be applied to any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. When a round bannock is cut into wedges, the wedges are often called scones. But in Scotland, the words bannock and scone are often used interchangeably.
The original bannocks were heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmealdough formed into a round or oval shape, then cooked on a griddle (or girdle in Scots). In Scotland, before the 19th century, bannocks were cooked on a bannock stane (Scots for stone), a large, flat, rounded piece of sandstone, placed directly onto a fire, then used as a cooking surface. Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a light and airy texture. There is a suggestion that bannock cakes played a pivotal role in the deciding of a person for human sacrifice during the late Iron Age in the discovery of Lindow Man.
Bannock varieties can be named or differentiated according to various characteristics: the flour or meal from which they are made, whether they are leavened or not, whether they have certain special ingredients, how they are baked or cooked, and the names of rituals or festivals in which they are used. Historically, specially made bannocks were used in rituals marking the changing of the Gaelic seasons: St Bride's bannock for spring (February 1), Béaltaine bannock for summer (May 1), Lughnasadh or Lammas bannock for autumn harvests (August 1), and Samhain bannock for winter (end of October). Other special Scottish and Gaelic bannocks include beremeal bannock, bride's bannock, cod liver bannock, cryin' bannock, fallaid bannock, fife bannock, Hogmanay bannock, Marymas bannock, mashlum bannock, Michaelmas bannock, pease bannock, Pitcaithly bannock, salt bannock, sautie bannock, Silverweed bannock, St Columba's bannock, teethin' bannock, Yetholm bannock, and Yule bannock. In the north of England, bannocks are often made using pastry rather than a bread dough.
A well-known Scottish bannock is the Selkirk Bannock, named after the town in the Scottish borders where it is traditionally made. It is a spongy, buttery variety, sometimes compared to a fruitcake, made from wheat flour and containing a very large quantity of raisins. The first known maker of this variety was a baker named Robbie Douglas, who opened his shop in Selkirk in 1859. When Queen Victoria visited Sir Walter Scott's granddaughter at Abbotsford she is said to have taken her tea with a slice of Selkirk Bannock—ensuring that its reputation was enshrined forever. Today, Selkirk Bannocks are popular throughout Great Britain, and can be found at most large supermarkets.
A type of bannock, using available resources, such as flour made from maize, roots, tree sap and leavening agents, may have been produced by indigenous North Americans prior to contact with outsiders. Some sources indicate that bannock was unknown in North America until the 1860s when it was created by the Navajo who were incarcerated at Fort Sumner, while others indicate that it came from a Scottish source.