The secrets of bannock

Dear Uma: I haven’t mentioned this, but the kitchen has been my arena, once again. I wanted to wait and astound you with my success stories,…

Dear Uma:

I haven’t mentioned this, but the kitchen has been my arena, once again. I wanted to wait and astound you with my success stories, and now I can do just that. 

Pete is so pleased, even though he’s had to make numerous trips every day to the grocery store to pick up ingredients I’ve forgotten to buy in Whitehorse.

He says our gas bill has gone up considerably, but he encourages me to stay the course in becoming a woman whose price is beyond rubies.

Inspired by a friend who has a plethora of recipes guaranteed to be simple, tasty and able to be brought to fruition without the use of dreaded kitchen appliances, I have been working my way through a series of meals, most of which have been consumable.

Not always attractive, but that will come.

I made a chocolate cake without even using a bowl!

It was mixed in the pan and then popped in the oven.  I forgot the oven has to be turned on, so the cake sat there for awhile.

Actually, I forgot the whole endeavour, discovering the cake when I noticed the container of icing (ready made) on the counter the next day. 

I baked it anyway, standing beside the oven for the entire baking time in order not to forget the poor thing.

Heaped with the icing, it was delicious and the fact that it had more of the quality of a brownie than a cake called for scoops of vanilla ice cream, which Pete was happy to go and get from Archie’s.

On to a “main dish”: this was a clam chowder, and again, by paying total and rapt attention to every moment from assembling ingredients to ladling it into bowls, we were able to enjoy one of our favourite meals.

Delicious as the chowder turned out to be, I am inclined to agree with Pete that my last-minute addition of a can of escargots could be left out next time. 

From the chowder, I went to biscuits and once more was moderately successful, largely because I genuinely like slightly burned bottoms on my biscuits.

With my next recipe, chili, I got daring, thinking if one clove of garlic is good to garlic lovers such as ourselves, why not several? 

Why not the whole ball, or bulb? or whatever it’s called in its raw state.

The result was less than ideal.

Pete was not home to see me determinedly eat my way through one bowl of the chili before surrendering it to the ravens.

Ravens, I have found, will eat anything on offer. I spread it on one of the remaining snow banks in the yard and then settled myself at the window to see if I could catch them relishing this rare treat. They gathered, they circled, they talked a great deal, and finally, they sent in their taster, who after hopping all around the feast, dipped a beak.

It seemed to be too rare a treat; the taster shook it off his beak with loud honks of surprise and disapproval and the whole party took off, making sounds of disgust and chagrin designed, I suppose, to warn off any other creature from dining at this restaurant. 

It worked; not another living thing approached the livid mass lying on the snow, forcing me, after two days of watching and hoping, to go out under cover of darkness and scrape it into a garbage bag.

Chili notwithstanding, subsequent recipes, carefully followed, have resulted in a home-cooked meal almost every night, even when Pete is away.

No more frozen dinners!

Not one package of prepared dinner have I opened; my refrigerator is no longer a bare, sad place but is stuffed full of raw things waiting for my skilled hands to transform them to dinner.

So far I have restricted myself to the recipes from my friend; my one foray into a cookbook baffled me with the instruction “cook until done” and sent me hastily back to consult the stack of paper on which she has hand-written the secrets to her successes. 

Said stack is getting sort of messy, I’ve noticed, with stains and blobs and even on one, a bit of charring; next food project will be printing them out and carefully preserving them with laminate.

I can’t sign off without sharing another recipe given to me by a new acquaintance.

I can safely guarantee even you, with your library of cookbooks, will not have this one.




BANNOCK OR BA-ANUK (original name)

Assembling the ingredients for an authentic traditional baanuk may take several months; one must be committed to the process.

First of all, the gathering of the ttk’o root, for pounding and grinding into the sort of flour that is the main component of the baanuk:

It is best to gather the roots before the moon is full, and of course accompanied by a small white dog, preferably a mature female.

Using only wooden spoons and sticks (nothing metal) carefully dig up the plant, chanting the appropriate prayer as one shakes the earth back into the hole left by the root, and taking no more that three handfuls of the leaves.

These leaves, dried, provide the rising element needed for a proper baanuk.

The remainder of the excavated plant is to be buried under a spruce tree, using the layer of dead needles and such from under said tree.

The drying of the ttk’o roots and leaves may be expedited by using a microwave oven. The setting called “speed defrost,” set for four minutes, works very well.

The harvesting and drying can be accomplished on the same day.

Ah! The joys of modern conveniences! 

You ought to end up with four cups of the root flour and half a cup of the leaves, powdered.

The moistening ingredients required in this recipe are the most difficult to find and harvest, but one must remember it has been successfully accomplished for hundreds of years — it can be done.

Locating a sider is not hard; they are few in number and the herds are always in the same place.  Milking one is much more of a task, beginning with the distinguishing between males and females and the species special – eunuchs. They all look alike! However, we know from the stories of the old people that their behaviour in certain circumstances is what makes it possible. They must be provoked into a stampede. The males will run, the females will form a circle and the eunuchs will charge the provoker. The eunuchs of the siders can be a formidable adversary, capable of inflicting great damage with horns, hoofs, and barbed tail; one wants to avoid a direct confrontation at all costs. Luckily, we know from the stories that if one approaches the herd entirely unclothed, covered with the fine mud from the banks of the Liard River and holding three owl feathers between the first and second toes of each foot, one is not only likely to be safe from the eunuchs but also able to obtain milk from one of the females.

One must not, under any circumstances, use the left hand in the milking process, and the milk must be fed directly into a wooden bowl. Take no more than the required amount of two cups.

Now, the fat. Originally, of course, the fat of the wa hez was used, but it has been a century since anyone has seen one of the creatures, its habitat has succumbed to the axe and the plow, and the animal itself hunted to extinction. 

For many years it has been deemed acceptable to use margarine. The oleo deemed the best for our purposes is the one labelled “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Four tablespoons will be needed.

Salt was never used in the old days and ways, but you will discover that ground beaver toenails (get over any repulsion you may feel for the idea) works amazingly well and also adds protein to the recipe. A half cup does the trick.

Make certain that all your ingredients are at room temperature and that you are alone in the room when you actually combine them and that the only light is from a natural source. Daylight is best, obviously, but candlelight is fine, providing you are using candles made from fat from a clawed animal.  No hoofed animal fat!  Quickly combine and lightly mix (use your hands) your baanuk dough. Use a plastic bowl – again no metal, glass, or Corningware. Put your blob of dough into a cast iron skillet that has been heated and has eight tablespoons of margarine (“I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”) melted in it. Cook till the dough gives off a faint green-y glow.

Eat hot or cold with the condiment of your choice.

Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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