Traditionally a large round heavy flat cake of unleavened barley or oats cooked cooked in a pan that could girdle it about (a griddle). Bannuc has been made in Scotland, Ireland and northern England since before the 8th century. It was often cooked directly on a flat piece of sandstone shoved into a fire.
Almost every culture has an unleavened flat bread that sustained them, acorns, camas bulbs, maize, wheat… and over time as we discovered leavening they became the basic staple comfort foods that we have today. Queue de castor, pfannkuchen, våffla, youtiao, churras, chiacchiere, hush puppies and naan.
It is considered to be one of the two national Canadian dishes found everywhere in the 450 odd years of sustenance and settlement in the northern half of the continent, all the way to the arctic.
The most recognized ‘traditional’ bannock comes from the supplies that were available for trade through the Hudson’s Bay company and eaten by traders and trappers anywhere in the country a good fur pelt could be found. Later it would be associated with the supplies the English doled out to indigenous people to compensate the loss of the traditional land and the food resources that sustained them.
Hearty and simple like the canadiens, it is a valuable, hardworking, forgiving, and practical dough ready for even the most rudimentary conditions of survival.
Without going the whole hog and crushing the grains between two rocks to start; this is one of the oldest and simplest recipes that has stood the test of time from coast to coast to coast.
2 3/4 cups of flour are stirred together with 2 teaspoons of baking powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 3 tablespoons of lard are cut into the flour with two knives and 2/3 of a cup of ice cold water are gradually stirred in until there remains a slightly sticky dough.
This is rolled out or flattened into a cast iron pan until the edges are girdled so they don’t split apart (my pan was too big). Alternately, the rolled dough can be cut into strips and wrapped around a stick and cooked directly over a fire.
The pan is placed over a fire and the bread flipped once. Slathered in butter and served with a hearty soup. it can be made anywhere. A vacant lot, under a bridge, by the side of a lake, and even in your kitchen. A living heritage of survival.
The moon changed and brought in the true dampness of winter this week. No longer nourishing showers falling from above. It’s a cold and driving rain that chills you deep. Even when you’re inside.
I like to think that living in a climate like this tends to help in understanding the depth of what it means to be inside. To carve out a separate space and shape it for ourselves. We are not just clothed in nature and the world but deep within us, there rests a place untouched profound and undescribed. And I recognize the yearning in all the faces around me that it would be revealed.
And that’s why when I look for inspiration I look at those who have gone before, who have grappled and wrested something from this experience and have sought to give it voice. Give it shape or words. Something tangible that others can experience as well.
That haunting and vast space contained by the transept of St. Peter’s or Hagia Sophia.
Constructed in Constantinople in 537AD by the order of the Emperor; Αγία Σοφία becomes the third church of the holy wisdom to occupy the site… the largest building in the world and the largest cathedral for a thousand years. That is until the gold of the new world can fund a larger one in Seville.
A space we do not recognize nor comprehend. As alien as life beyond our stars. It lasts solely to contain the invisible presence and experience of holy wisdom itself. This vast unknowable wisdom to which we can attach no name and to which we can properly only respond. To live this experience and give it voice. And few are those who manage to succeed in hearing this calling and have it reach our crumpled and distorted world.
Hagia Sophia managed to do it for a thousand, three-hundred and ninety-four years until was made into a museum and fell into disrepair and abuse in 1931. A time my parents lived in. Today it serves as the destination point for dinner and a selfie. Or a short sit on a bench in this hard and foreign place. To wait for the bus that got you there on time for the tour and back again for lunch.
I don’t think Palestrina ever misunderstood what he was doing and it shows. I can close my eyes and rest.
I let the sound wash over me like a sheet of wind flowing across the landscape. Hear the breath of the heavens above in that wondrous space between earth and sky where we all live together inside. Along with this sacred space reserved for the soul.