It’s an epically horrible winter day in Toronto. The kind of day someone says “Let’s start drinking at noon,” and you have no problem with that.
Torontonians smugly enjoyed a mild November and December and a green Christmas with double-digit temperatures. But Christmas is a bittersweet memory, and snow and freezing rain are the new reality. Even the birds are depressed.
When the weather outside is frightful, I restlessly peruse comfort food recipes, and hover over the one for my Metis grandma’s bannock. A whack of flour, butter, and milk isn’t on my post Christmas cleanse, so I go through an elaborate denial process that involves nutritional value and the harsh reality that these three ingredients will turn to glue in my stomach.
I come to my senses and feverishly begin to cobble the ingredients, convincing myself that bannock is how I will survive this day.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really get my Metis grandma. To my naive eyes, she was hopelessly inelegant, spoke what I thought was awful French, and refused to honour the thirty day mourning period for my tragically deceased hamster Jennifer. She grew up in Jack Lake and Batoche, Saskatchewan in a one-room log cabin, and survived long prairie winters with not much more than salt pork and bannock.
We weren’t exactly soul mates, but we did manage to bond in the outdoor kitchen at my uncle’s ranch in Alberta over two simple miracles called flour and butter. I watched her with fascination as she dipped one of those formica patterned coffee cups into her flour tin, measured out baking powder and salt with any old spoon, thrashed in some butter, and added a glug of milk.
Then she’d stoke the wood stove and let the flame burn down to an intuitive 350 degrees. She would get busy with the dozen or so pies she would churn out later that day, but I would linger for a snitch taste of her bannock.
There are recipes for bannock online, but they include ingredients like oil and water. Or directions to fry instead of bake. MAKE THESE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Although the bannock my grandma grew up with was made with some kind of rendered moose or duck fat and water, by the mid 60’s, she had firmly embraced the modern conveniences of baking powder and store bought butter and milk.
I was at a Metis event on Louis Riel day in November and the bannock was CATERED. And fried into lumps of inedible dough. Sorry Metis Nation of Ontario. You’re a fun group, but prairie Metis bannock is never fried. We do not add unnecessary calories and trans fat, not to mention render it to the consistency of a hockey puck.
Is grandma’s bannock basically an overgrown baking powder biscuit?
Hell yeah. But baked into a mound it takes me back to that old camp kitchen, my no-nonsense Metis grandma, and the only connection to our Metis identity that she passed on to me.
Here’s my grandma’s recipe. I’ve halved the ingredients so you can easily devour it yourself at home while nobody’s looking, on an epically horrible winter’s day.
1.5 cups flour
½ tsp salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup butter cut into pieces
½ cup milk
Combine dry ingredients. Cut butter into dry ingredients. Pour milk in and work into a loose floury ball. Turn out and form into 1″ deep round on a baking sheet, Mound it and pat it once with anticipation and put it in the oven at 350 degrees.
Note: Why wait for it to be fully baked? Shave off a section while it’s still in the oven.