Buttermilk Bannocks

Buttermilk Bannocks are quick and easy to make.
Buttermilk Bannocks are quick and easy to make.

In March, our county issued a voluntary “Safer at Home” order to help flatten the COVID-19 curve. By early April, data showed a return to pre-order activity levels, so the governor issued a “Stay at Home” order. My husband and I have been mostly ensconced in our home since early March. And while we enjoy spending time with each other, almost 24/7 contact required some creativity to keep the peace and ensure we could both be productive.

Our primary need was to create separate work spaces and to establish—and honor—work schedules. We are using my studio space for Zoom meetings, which took some juggling. I’m a voice actor who’s not been in studio much lately, and he’s a technology-challenged professor who is now mastering the art of the virtual conference. As for computer-based work, we’ve figured out when we can or can’t be in the same space together. Work … is working.  

Even for those who are normally homebodies, it’s hard being at home so much. We’ve sought to break up old routines and fill the gaps left by things we cannot do right now. I can’t believe it, but my dear, sweet husband, whose primary interest is in non-fiction—and by that, I mean, 24/7 non-fiction is fine with him—agreed to watch the Outlander series with me. And not just, “oh, sure, I’ll watch an episode or two” but binge watch, of a sort. Almost every evening, after we’ve dined on my latest food creation or settled into leftovers, we have watched a couple of episodes. 

Having read most of the series, albeit some time ago, I’ve been aware of what’s coming, and I’ve enjoyed thinking through the work with a writer’s eyes. As a voice actor, I find myself picking up the dialect in my speech. And it’s been quite entertaining to watch my husband react to the plot’s twists and turns. True to form, he’s become interested in the non-fiction side of things: Gaelic and Scottish history. He owns a treasure trove of books, so he’s dug in, occasionally punctuating my day with thoughts about language, lineage, culture and politics of the period. What better way to add to his immersive experience than to prepare food of the time? 

If you’re an Outlander fan, you may already be aware that there is a companion cookbook—Outlander Kitchen—with a website featuring recipes to match various scenes from the book and Starz series. I discovered this after researching bannocks, a specific dish my husband mentioned following an episode. 

It turns out bannocks, like spatchcocking, claim several origins, among them Scottish highlanders and native Americans. They are made with different ingredients or slightly different cooking methods, but they’re recognizable as a distinct quick bread. Bannocks are popular campsite fare today. Best of all, they’re simple to make and taste pretty good, all things considered.

Because I wanted to get as close to authentic as I could given what I had in my pantry, I selected Jocasta’s “Auld Country” Scottish Bannock. It was perfect timing, because the character Jocasta was introduced in an episode we watched later that evening.

The recipe called for coarsely ground rolled oats. Fortunately, I bulk purchase oatmeal and had plenty on hand. I ground them in my molcajete (a Mexican mortar and pestle). I splurged with real butter to ensure maximum flavor. I used buttermilk instead of whole milk or water (if you follow me, you are not surprised at that). I felt buttermilk would add a nice flavor and produce a nicer texture. 

How easy is this? Heat the milk, butter and salt, combine it with the oatmeal to create a dough, roll into a circle and cut into four equal pieces and cook. (You can see why this would be a favorite of open-fire cooking, because you can drop clumps or balls into a skillet to cook it.)  If you don’t have to grind the oatmeal, the whole process takes under 20 minutes. I liked this well enough that I’m going to start playing around with flavorings and cook it up on days I feel like eating oatmeal I can hold in my hand.

We ate these plain as a side for barbecued pork loin and corn chowder. They would work well with any “auld country” dish. The butter flavor makes it a classic for homestyle cooking, too. Eliminate salt for a low sodium version (including use of unsalted butter). Substitute olive or another mono-unsaturated oil for healthier fat content. If you can be assured the oatmeal is contamination free, this is a gluten-free dish. 

If you follow my blog, and have decided to try the “simple” challenge, this recipe has only four ingredients.

Prep Time:  about 15-25 minutes (less if you have already ground oatmeal).

Yields: four pieces

Ingredients

1/4 C buttermilk

2 TBSP butter

1/2 tsp salt

1 C ground oatmeal

more oatmeal for rolling surface

Directions

Place milk and butter in small pan and heat through.

Grind or placed ground oatmeal into bowl.

Add liquid to meal and stir well.

Form into a dough ball and place on a floured surface.

Roll into a circle about 1/4 in thick.

Cut into four equal quarter sections.

Heat skillet to medium-low and place quarters. 

Cook each side about 5 minutes, until lightly browned.

Buttermilk Bannocks at a glance.
Buttermilk Bannocks at a glance.

Serving Suggestions

Serve warm—either plain, topped with a spread or drizzled with honey or syrup. Great addition to a traditional breakfast or as a side to a homestyle meal. 

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