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Biscuits Sans Oven

Island Epicure

Some days even back in April were too hot to think without raising a sweat. It looks like we’ll have a few true scorchers this summer, too, the sort of days when you just want to graze out of the refrigerator and freezer. You serve make-it-yourself sandwiches and iced tea for supper, simply putting out a platter of cold cuts and sliced tomatoes on lettuce and a plate of whatever bread you have on hand, or rye crackers, or you whip up a batch of skillet biscuits called bannocks (recipe below).

It gets hot even in Alaska and the Yukon. Those “sourdoughs” who panned for gold in the Yukon weren’t near a store, nor likely to wasting their few grains of panned gold on store bought bread, vegetables, or meats. Their free vegetables were fireweed cooked as you would spinach, wild radish root eaten raw or cooked in soups or stews, wild chives, the sweet “muskrat turnip” found in shallow waters of lakes and marshes and eaten raw, young horsetail shoots, and dandelion greens. Their meats were moose, squirrel, trout from Yukon streams, and wild mushrooms.

Their principal cooking utensils were a frying pan and a kettle. They stewed their moose meat or squirrel meat in the kettle and added dumplings, or made breadstuffs in the skillet—buckwheat pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, disks of biscuits-like bread called bannocks, wiped out the skillet and fried the fish in it.

I make smaller bannocks that are like skillet biscuits. They’re quite good, and keep for a couple of days. You can make them in the cool of the morning. Here is my recipe for the Highland Scot style bannocks like my  Macbeath ancestors, cooked over the red coals in their fireplace at Kettering, Inverness two centuries ago. I use a 12-inch skillet on an electric range, not a fireplace, but the bannocks, a cross between a pancake and a biscuit, are from the old Scots recipe.

 Scotch Bannock
Makes 12 to 14 palm-sized biscuits
1 cup barley flour
1 cup oat bran
½ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup coconut sugar or brown cane sugar Stir in a measuring cup:
7/8 cup water
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Mix into dry ingredients. Let rest a few minutes so the flour and oats can drink up moisture. Heat and grease a 12-inch skillet or use a non-stick skillet. Drop gobs of dough from a wooden spoon. Spread to flatten them slightly. When brown on one side, turn and brown the other side.  Stick a toothpick into the first one into the pan to see if it’s cooked through. If so, give it a few more seconds, and then with a spatula transfer the bannocks to a wire rack. Eat warm with butter and jam or honey, or as is.

When any leftover bannocks are quite cold, store them in a plastic bag. They are good cold, but you can warm them for another meal or snack if you wish. Just give them a few minutes in a warm, but not hot, skillet. I don’t recommend warming in a microwave.

Berry Bannaock
Prepare the bannock recipe as above, but reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon and swap out half the baking powder for 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. To the dry ingredients add about ¼ cup blueberries, huckleberries or raisins.
For another flavor variation, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon or ginger to the dry ingredients.