Bannock (food)

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Traditional beremeal bannock, as made in Orkney, Scotland
TypeQuick bread
Place of originBritish Isles

Bannock is a variety of flat quick bread or any large, round article baked or cooked from grain. A bannock is usually cut into sections before serving.


The word "bannock" comes from Northern and Scots dialects. The Oxford English Dictionary states the term stems from panicium, a Latin word for "baked dough", or from panis, meaning bread. It was first referred to as "bannuc" in early glosses to the 8th century author Aldhelm (d. 709),[1] and its first cited definition in 1562. Its historic use was primarily in Ireland, Scotland and Northern England.[2] The Scottish poet Robert Burns mentions bannock in his Epistle to James Tennant of Glenconner, in reference to Alexander Tennant.[3]

Early history[edit]

A griddle (girdle) from Dalgarven Mill in North Ayrshire, used for baking bannocks and oat cakes

The original bannocks were heavy, flat cakes of unleavened barley or oatmeal dough 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, used as a cooking surface.[4] Most modern bannocks are made with baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent, giving them a light and airy texture.[5][6][7] 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.[8]


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), Bealtaine bannock for summer (May 1), Lughnasadh or Lammas bannock for autumn harvests (August 1), and Samhain bannock for winter (end of October). Other special 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.[5] Manx bonnag probably comes from the same root form as bannock and is made using similar ingredients.[9] In the north of England, bannocks are often made using pastry rather than a bread dough.

Selkirk bannock[edit]

Selkirk bannock from Scotland is well-known and named after the town in the Scottish borders where it is traditionally made. It is a spongy, buttery variety, sometimes compared to a fruitcake,[10] 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 reputed to have taken her tea with a slice of Selkirk bannock, thus ensuring that its reputation was enshrined forever.[11] Today, Selkirk bannocks are popular throughout Great Britain, and can be found at most large supermarkets.[6][dubious ]

Indigenous North Americans[edit]

Bannock, skaan (or scone), or Indian bread,[12] is found throughout North American Native cuisine, including that of the Inuit of Canada and Alaska, other Alaska Natives, the First Nations of the rest of Canada, the Native Americans in the United States, and the Métis.[12][13][14]

Pre-contact bannock or Scottish import?[edit]

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, similar to modern cornbread.[13] Some sources claim that bannock was unknown in North America until the 1860s when it was created by the Navajo who were incarcerated at Fort Sumner,[15] while others indicate that it came from a Scottish source.[12] Native American tribes who ate camas include the Nez Perce, Cree, Coast Salish, Lummi, and Blackfoot tribes, among many others. Camas bulbs contributed to the survival of members of the expedition of Lewis and Clark (1804–06). Camas bulbs (and bannock made from them) are listed in the Ark of Taste.[16][17]


Other languages do offer hints of European influence, however, for example Navajo: bááh dah díníilghaazhh "bread that bubbles" (i.e. in fat), where "bááh" is a borrowing from Spanish: pan for flour and yeast bread, as opposed to the older Navajo: łeesʼáán which refers to maize bread cooked in hot ashes[18] Likewise, Yup'ik alatiq comes from Russian: ола́дьи "pancakes, fritters".


Bannock is generally prepared with white or whole wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, lard and water or milk,[19] which are combined and kneaded (possibly with spices, dried fruits or other flavouring agents added) then fried in rendered fat, vegetable oil, or shortening, baked in an oven or cooked on a stick.[13]

Political significance[edit]

Bannock is the most universal of dishes in the indigenous Canadian repertoire, and is used equally in the Arctic, Plains, Sub-arctic, and Pacific cultural areas. However, the modern recipes for bannock are clearly influenced by the government rations that were distributed on Indian reserves in the late 19th century when access to country foods (plants and animals native to the region) were restricted by the arrival of non-indigenous settlers. Such rations included the staples of the European Canadian diet at that time: wheat flour, sugar, lard, and butter; all high-calorie, low-nutrient, shelf-stable foods produced in bulk quantities and shipped long distances (together with the preservative and flavour additive, salt). These new ingredients helped indigenous people to survive the loss of access to country foods, and are now thought of by some as fully a part of indigenous identity, and even as "Indian soul food". However, for others they are a reminder of the negative impacts of colonialism, and are regarded as an imposition.[20]

Bannock's relationship with Turtle Island[edit]

The history and political significance of bannock has changed over the years on Turtle Island. Bannock has had and continues to hold great significance to many First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people intergenerationally, from pre-contact to the present.[21]

The bannock of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people was made of corn and nut meal, and flour made from various roots and ground plant bulbs, and sweetened with syrup from trees.[22] There were many regional variations of bannock that included different types of flour, and the addition of dried or fresh fruit.[22] Pre-contact First Nations, Metis, and Inuit had a variety of traditional food sources specific to geographical location and culture.[22]

As a result of colonial expansion and settlement, the introduction of wheat and flour from the Scottish diffused its way into Indigenous bannock recipes.[22] Flour was a non-Indigenous food but soon became the staple ingredient in bannock, and had subsequent effects on the lives of First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples.[21]

Traditionally, First Nations groups cooked their bannock by various distinct cultural methods. Some rolled the dough in sand then pit-cooked it. When completed, the sand was brushed off and then the bread was consumed. Other groups baked the bannock in clay or rock ovens while some wrapped the dough around a green, hardwood stick and toasted it over an open fire.[22]

Bannock also had culturally specific variations. Known also as bannaq, bannuc, galette, gallette de mischif and sapli’l, it plays a vital role in the lives of Indigenous Canadians.[22]

Bannock's functionality made it viable to cook and consume while conducting daily activities at home, or hunting, trapping, fishing, and gathering out on the land.[21] Colonization started to dramatically control and change the traditional life ways of Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. This process changed the relationship they had with bannock. Where bannock was once a food of function to make out on the land or along trap lines during fur trading, it became a necessary staple for Indigenous people to feed their families and stave off starvation. Bannock sustained countless families and communities when they were forced to give up their mobility, much of their traditional food sources,  their traditional lifestyles, and were relocated from their traditional territories onto reserves.[21]

The reserve system in Canada was forced restoration of movement and enclosure of a land base.[23] This tool of colonization aimed to imprison and isolate Indigenous people and force them into a state of dependency.[21] Under settler government policies such as the Indian Act, Indigenous people were not allowed to leave the reserve without a pass from the Indian agent, restricting movement and mobility. The notorious pass system was never part of the formal Indian Act. However, various levels of government implemented it to prevent Indigenous people from leaving their reserves without written permission from the Indian Agent.[22] Not only were physical bodies displaced but intangible parts of Indigenous culture such as women's knowledge of plants became impractical since harvesting areas were rendered inaccessible or outright destroyed.[23] Women's knowledge on traditional food sources were lost and could not be orally passed down from generation to generation due to policies and practices of the settler state. Thus, Indigenous people's ability to feed their own families through traditional ways was replaced by settler food rations, usually consisting of flour and lard.[21]

The direct result of this disconnection to the land was poverty, increasing health care issues, and a shift in traditional lifestyle.[24] The intergenerational effects of colonialism still negatively impact the daily lives of Indigenous people and communities today. The lack of running and potable water, housing insecurity, unemployment and food insecurity in Northern communities and reserves affects the health of Indigenous peoples.[24] There are still many Indigenous families that continue to make bannock out of necessity. The issue of poverty and health for Indigenous communities continues to be a lived reality.[21]

Bannock, and similar processed foods which are not a part of traditional diets, have caused many health problems like diabetes, hypertension and obesity among Indigenous communities.[22] As Indigenous communities heal and work towards decolonizing in political, social, and cultural ways decolonizing diets is an essential process in the anti-colonial struggle in post-colonial contexts.[23] Food choices play a significant role in Indigenous health, identity and culture.[21] Therefore, the occupancy of bannock in Indigenous food resurgence and food sovereignty movements may soon be replaced with traditional varieties of bannock along with traditional ingredients within their territories as a daily mode of resistance.[23]

It is important to recognize the juxtaposition of bannock to Indigenous people. Bannock is not inherent to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit cultures, but of colonial imposition and serves as a symbol of oppression. In contrast, Bannock continues to be used as a tool of survival.

See also[edit]


  • Barkwell, Lawrence J.; Dorion, Leah; Hourie, Audreen (2006). Métis Legacy (Volume II) Michif Culture, Heritage, and Folkways. Winnipeg: Pemmican Publications Inc. and Saskatoon: Gabriel Dumont Institute. ISBN 0-920915-80-9.[19]'


  1. ^ Louis Goossens, The old English glosses of ms. Brussels, Royal Library, 1650 (Aldhelm's De laudibus virginitatis) (Brussels: Paleis der Academien, 1974), 2352.
  2. ^ Simpson, John; Weiner, Edward, eds. (1989). Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition. Clarendon Press.
  3. ^ Burns, Robert. "Epistle To James Tennant Of Glenconner". The Complete Works of Robert Burns. Robert Burns Country. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  4. ^ Feilden, Rosemary (1999). "Bannock Stane at Aberdeen University's Virtual Museum". Aberdeen University. Retrieved 2009-11-12.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Bannock". Practically Edible: The Web's Biggest Food Encyclopaedia. Archived from the original on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  6. ^ a b Ingram, Christine; Jennie Shapter (2003). BREAD: the breads of the world and how to bake them at home. (Originally published as The World Encyclopedia of Bread and Bread Making.) London: Hermes House. p. 54. ISBN 0-681-87922-X.
  7. ^ Clayton, Bernard Jr. (2003). Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 555. ISBN 0-7432-3472-3.
  8. ^ Ross and Robins (1989). The Life and Death of a Druid Prince.
  9. ^ "Bonnag Recipes". Retrieved 2017-09-14.
  10. ^ Nibble on a Selkirk Bannock
  11. ^ "Selkirk Bannock". Practically Edible: The Web's Biggest Food Encyclopaedia. Archived from the original on 2009-02-27. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  12. ^ a b c Oswalt, Wendell H. (2001). This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native Americans. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-19-517514-1. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  13. ^ a b c Michael D. Blackstock. "Bannock Awareness". Government of British Columbia. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  14. ^ "Traditional Mets foods" (PDF). 2018. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  15. ^ Berzok, Linda Murray (2005). American Indian Food. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-313-32989-0. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
  16. ^ Camas Bulbs, Ark of Taste, Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
  17. ^ Quamash Bannock, Ark of Taste, Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity
  18. ^ "Dah díníilghaazh". October 2012.
  19. ^ "IRC Foods". Archived from the original on 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  20. ^ "Does Bannock Have a Place in Indigenous Cuisine?". 20 May 2016.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h Wastasecoot, Lorilee (2016-03-17). "Bannock: consuming colonialism". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h "Bannock Awareness" (PDF). 2013.
  23. ^ a b c d Patel, Raj; Grey, Sam. "Food Sovereignty as Decolonization: Some Contributions from Indigenous Movements to Food System and Development Politics". Agriculture & Human Values.
  24. ^ a b "Results". Retrieved 2019-12-15.

External links[edit]