Camping always involves an element of adventure — that’s a large part of the attraction — but it’s easier to rough it these days than in the past.
We’ve got high-tech clothing, gourmet freeze-dried meals, sleeping pads that sell for what you once paid for a used shotgun and gadgets galore, including chargers that let us power high-powered cell phones for days on end. If anything, some of those tools can make it hard to really get away at all.
For better or worse, we’ve come a long way from the days of buckskin.
But there are some things from those long-ago days still around. Bannock is one of them.
If you’d wandered into any mountain man’s campsite a couple of centuries ago, just in time for dinner, there’s a chance you’d have found him making bannock, sometimes called campfire bread. It was a mealtime staple, one that supposedly dates back to Ireland.
It’s remained popular with explorers, back-country adventurers, canoers, campers and the like ever since because it requires few ingredients, is easy to make, is very filling and tastes good, too.
With a consistency somewhere in the neighborhood of a cross between a bread and a pancake, it can be heavy. But I especially like it in fall, when maybe you’re trying to squeeze in one last campout before the weather gets too cool.
Ending a day of tromping the woods or paddling the river with fresh bread cooked in a cast iron skillet — or even wrapped around a stick, if you’re traveling light — over a bed of warm coals will make you feel whole again, believe me.
To make a fair-sized portion, good for a couple of hungry travelers, mix two cups of flour, two teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, ¾ cups water and two tablespoons of cooking oil (you can premix the dry ingredients at home). Knead it for five to 10 minutes, until everything is well mixed.
Lay the resulting loaf into a well-greased skillet over coals from your campfire, turning it periodically, until it’s cooked through. Test it as it cooks to determine when it’s done. If you can poke a fork into it and pull it back out without any gumminess evident, it’s ready to eat.
Slathered in butter or jelly, sprinkled with butter and cinnamon sugar or used to mop up a bowl of stew, it makes an awesome part of a meal.
You can tweak the recipe to make your bannock more dessert-like, too. Some people like to add raisins or dried blueberries to the mix, then cook it that way. The result can be almost muffin-like.
The only trick to preparing bannock is to control your heat. You want to prepare it over coals, not a blazing fire, otherwise you’ll burn the outside without cooking the inside.
If you’ve never made bannock before, you can try cooking it on your stovetop at home the first time. That’s not as romantic as doing it outdoors, but you can learn — under controlled conditions — what bannock is to look and taste like. Then, by the time you do get outside, you’ve got a feel for what you’re trying to do.
Eating bannock won’t make you a pioneer, but it will let you feel like a satisfied, well-fed one.