This delicious, iconic food is both a staple of life and a symbol of Indigenous persistence.
Bannock: a simple quick bread made with a few ingredients most people will have on hand. But bannock, for all its simplicity, holds a much greater story. For food is culture. And every culture has some form of bread. This simple staple is ours—a small, common thread found throughout the countless independent and, sometimes, vastly different First Nations throughout Turtle Island*. It connects us. It carries our stories. And in many ways, bannock is a symbol of Indigenous perseverance, resilience, and survival.
But before we go any further, let’s clear one thing up: bannock and fry bread aren’t the same thing. While the terms are often used synonymously, as someone pretty proficient in the baked-versus-fried-dough debate, I stand behind the fact that, yes, there’s a difference! Simply, bannock is baked and fry bread is, well, fried.
To say that fried dough is an important part of my life would be an understatement. I own and operate Bigfoot Donuts with my husband, Jay, in downtown Courtenay, in the traditional territory of the K’ómoks First Nation. While bannock and fry bread aren’t on Bigfoot’s regular menu, they hold a special place in my own cultural journey, which inspires my work as an Indigenous entrepreneur every day.
As a Cree on the coast, and having been cut off from my lineage through a history of adoption, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience my own culture growing up—unfortunately, an all-too-common situation for many Indigenous people throughout this country. I’m grateful to the many teachers, leaders, elders, communities, and knowledge keepers I’ve had the privilege of engaging with on my lifelong journey of cultural self-discovery. And one thing I’ve found in this pursuit is that bannock is ever-present—a consistent comfort.
Every community, family, and individual, even, has their own recipe or method for making bannock. It’s found at every gathering, event, ceremony, meeting, school function, festival, backyard, kitchen table, anytime, anyplace, you name it, if there’s an Indigenous presence, bannock is likely making an appearance.
Since time immemorial, Indigenous peoples throughout Turtle Island have been utilizing the bounty this land has to offer. The bannock we eat today has its roots, quite literally, in roots: early forms were traditionally prepared using native plants and tubers ground up with fats and berries and cooked over fire and hot stones.
After contact and the introduction of milled flours and leaveners, Indigenous cooks adapted their recipes and cooking methods to include these more readily available alternatives. When First Nations began to be confined to Indian reserves, their ability to source and prepare traditional foods was curtailed, often severely. Some communities were forced to live on government rations. Pantry basics, such as flour and oil, were sometimes the only things available to feed families. In many cases, bannock became a lifeline and, as such, exemplifies the perseverance of our communities to overcome tremendous efforts of erasure to still be here today—to thrive today. Bannock carries this legacy. With every iteration of this icon of Indigenous culture and cuisine, our pride and presence are shared.
Join us at Bigfoot when we prepare fry bread on special days, seek it out from the many talented makers in our local Indigenous community, or give it a go yourself. Use your hands, feel and acknowledge the history, and celebrate the Indigenous culture that surrounds us, the best way I know how: through food.
*Many Indigenous peoples use this name for the North American continent.
2 ½ CUPS ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
2 TBSP BAKING POWDER
1 ½ TSP SALT
1 TBSP SUGAR
1 ¼ CUPS ROOM TEMPERATURE WATER
—OR—1 ½ CUPS WARM BUTTERMILK
(A BIGFOOT PREFERENCE!)
Sift dry ingredients together, add liquid, and stir. Knead or turn up to 10 times to form a cohesive ball. Let rest 10 minutes.
FOR FRY BREAD: Pull off small balls of dough, flatten, place into 375° oil and fry for up to 2 minutes per side.
FOR BANNOCK: Flatten ball to ¾-inch thickness and cook in greased skillet, 15 minutes a side on medium heat, or place onto pan and into 350° oven for 25 minutes.
Bannock is best served with jam, while fry bread makes for a delicious savoury taco, sliced and filled with taco filling. Or try my personal favourite: sliced and filled with smoked salmon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo.