Two things happened to inspire this article—First, I just returned from canoeing up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northern Minnesota, and second, this is prime berry-picking season.
Let me elaborate on why I was even canoeing or berry-picking: I did it for a man. Sigh. Or should I say, the man. Part of being in a relationship, I feel, is to respect, to learn, to grow–and we aim to do that with each other. And part of being engaged to an active American Indian Anishinaabe (pronounced a-nish-i-na-bay) outdoorsman means having to do (and most importantly wanting to do) woodland sorts of things out-of-doors, which include canoeing (a nice peaceful means of transportation on lakes) and berry-picking (a nice way to enjoy eating). More broadly speaking, these Anishinaabe woodland things basically entail being involved in seasonal cultural activities that have to do with land in some way.
While Anishinaabe tribal activities involve certain cultural tenets, like Native language and specific eco-spiritual worldviews, the actual activities themselves are processes that Anishinaabe people share with others around the world, certainly with my Quechua people, and may be familiar to many of you. I’m talking about things like harvesting or gathering wild plants, processing them largely if not totally by hand and all the while acknowledging in your own way nature’s compassionate bounty.
So while I was out canoeing, I had two tasty experiences. The first experience involved the multitude of raspberries and blueberries that colored the area. You could literally find and eat these berries along the portaging trails. It was a luscious, not to mention antioxidant-rich sugar burst.
The second experience was slightly more bitter—the taste of jealousy. Yes, I did succumb to this despicable anti-virtue. What happened was I packed so efficiently and brought such light energy and protein-rich super dehydrated food that I forgot about fun and fresh. So when I saw my companions frying up bread in their little camp pan, I felt, well, a tad annoyed. How could I have forgotten bread? Especially with so many berries around—imagine bread with berries served on top or even cooked in them! So upon my return from paddling my buns off, I decided to do a little homework on bread that is easy to make and convenient to make anywhere.
I was delighted to recall bannock. Often referred to as easy bread or a cheap bread, bannock (which has roots among our Scottish friends) has many variations, but is especially prized among First Nations people in Canada as a thick, dense pan-fried or baked bread. Similar to the place frybread occupies for American Indians here in the U.S., bannock is served up at Pow Wows and other social gatherings all over Canada. It is served most memorably as bannock and bologna, where a thick piece of fried bologna is inserted into an even thicker piece of bannock that has been sliced in half and buttered.
I decided to experiment and elaborate on a basic bannock recipe, which calls for just flour, salt, baking powder and water, and can be pan-fried or baked. What’s great about bannock for campers is that the mixture can be made up prior to a trip and then once you get to the campsite, all you need to do is add water, use a non-stick pan to cook it and you’ve got bread!
According to First Nations sources (see the website listed at the end of the article), the flour in bannock used traditionally by Native people was made from various plant roots. That has since changed, and now white flour is used, but in many creative mixtures. Or in my case, King Arthur flour from Norwich, Vermont (a tad ironic since bannock is supposed to be a cheap bread and I used a more expensive, but totally-worth-it flour).
The bannock turned out quite nicely, but the real treat was using the berries I had picked in the woods earlier as a topping.
I tried several variations of bannock, but this was the best tasting recipe, according to my Anishinaabe guinea pig. I think next time I’ll add pine nuts to my dough for some more flavor and protein. Feel free to experiment as well and to share with us your version of bannock. So, the next time you’re headed out into the great wilderness, even if you don’t bring along some bannock mix, don’t forget the FUN (i.e. the stuff that’s going to make your tummy happy after a challenging day). And of course, don’t forget to smell the roses (or in this case, eat the berries).
3 cups of flour
4 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 heaping tbsp sugar (if you like it sweet)
½ cup of vegetable shortening (or lard)
1-2 cups of buttermilk or canned milk
1. Heat a skillet or pan over medium-high heat. Add oil (vegetable, canola, etc), butter, shortening. I used very little oil—maybe 1 tsp.
2. Lower the heat to medium.
3. Combine all dry ingredients and shortening and mix well.
4. Then slowly add in the milk until a manageable dough is formed.
5. Shape balls of dough depending on how large you want the bread.
6. Then flatten the balls into pancakes about ½ inch thick.
7. Place in the pan and allow each side to brown, cooking each side for about 8 minutes or until fully cooked.
For more information on Anishinaabe harvesting of wild edible plants, the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) has a beautiful Anishinaabe harvesting calendar on their website (www.glifwc.org) that lists local plants and foods by each season and using the Native language of the Anishinaabe people, Ojibwemowin (pronounced o-jib-way-mown).
For more information on bannock, First Nations in Canada and bannock recipes, please visit the Ministry of Forests and Range “Bannock Awareness” website at http://www.for.gov.bc.ca/rsi/fnb/fnb.htm.