Do Canadians eat anything that is distinctly Canadian? What, if anything, defines Canadian cuisine, let alone Canadian breakfast? Poutine? No, that's Quebecois, which simply won't do since, Olympically speaking, it smacks of Montréal and is therefore too 1976 for my tastes. I cornered a Vancouverite the other evening at work, asking her if she could help me think of anything that was distinctly Canadian and, more specifically, British Columbian I could prepare. All she could come up with were Nanaimo bars. At least it was something. I decided to stop asking questions when her boyfriend suggested Hawai'ian pizza might do, since it had Canadian bacon on it. Even though he was being a complete smart ass, he at least put one item on my mental Canadian grocery list. And it's something salty, which always puts me in a good mood.
Another thing that came to mind, of course, was maple syrup. One can't get much more symbolically Canadian than the maple. Just look at their flag, for God's sake. I was fortunate enough to have been gifted a perfect little bottle of Canadian maple syrup. Granted, it was given to me in Paris, but by a Canadian from Vancouver, no less, so I'm not quibbling. It's just been sitting in my kitchen acting pretty. It was time to make proper use of the stuff.
So there I was again standing in my kitchen with a sauce and a side dish, but no main event. In my opinion, that's akin to a Winter Olympics with plenty of Moguls and Biathalon action, but no Women's Figure Skating. I needed a main event. I needed my Elizabeth Manley.
What I wound up with is as natively Canadian and plucky as the 1988 silver medalist who out-charmed everyone else on the ice that year. I decided to make Bannock. It might be native and plucky, but it's not exactly as light on its blade-pointed toes as Miss Manley. It's manly, alright, just without that little "e" between the "l" and "y."
Sadly, not even the Canadians I asked knew what Bannock was. I had come up with a "Salute to Canada" breakfast that would have even the most flag waving among them scratching their heads.
I was hoping to start a trend, but I somehow doubt that fry bread is going to sweep the nation of Canada, let alone the city of Vancouver, by storm. They're too busy either enjoying their Olympic fever or fretting over the projected $2 billion loss that it will most likely bring them. Or how the government can see fit to finance a $486 million retractable stadium roof yet can't seem to come up with the $47 million needed to fund the Arts, which the government has said is the "second pillar of the Olympics."
That piece of news sits in my stomach as heavily as a piece of Bannock.
Bannock and Bacon
Bannock is one of those things that just makes plain old Canadian sense. Though the word is derived from the Latin word panicium, or baked goods, it is tradition of both the Scots and the First Nations of Canada-- and there are a lot of both, heritage-wise, in British Columbia. Call it fry bread, call it scone-y, it's dense, nourishing, hearty fare-- the perfect breakfast food to ingest before ski jumping, ice dancing, or protesting Gordon Campbell's cuts in Arts funding.
Adding a few slices of Canadian bacon adds a much-needed bit of saltiness and protein to the breakfast and plays well with maple syrup. Canadians, by the way, do not call Canadian Bacon "Canadian Bacon." They call it back bacon. Lean, and ham-like, it's much less fatty than the belly-derived bacon that Americans are used. Unless, of course, one is eating an Egg McMuffin.
Makes about 12 Bannock cakes
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups oatmeal flour (not, my friends, oatmeal)
4 tablespoons melted butter
About 1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 or more (a handful or two) of dried currants, raisins, or, if you happen to have some on hand, Saskatoon berries.
Lard, vegetable oil, or butter for frying.
In addition to the bannock ingredients, you will need:
As many sliced of Canadian bacon as you like
Maple syrup. I won't tell on you if you use American syrup.
1.Combine all ingredients except the dried fruit and water in a mixing bowl. Add water a little at a time until a stiff dough has formed.
2. Knead dough for approximately 10 minutes. Fold in fruit while kneading.
3. Form dough into flatten discs, as small or as large as you like, but about 1/3" thick. Cover them with a slightly dampened cloth.
4. Heat a small amount of your cooking fat in a large cast iron pan. Add sliced Canadian bacon and cook until lightly (or darkly-- it's up to you) browned on both sides on medium heat. Reserve in a warm oven.
5. Lowering the heat under your skillet, add as many Bannock cakes as you can fit without over-crowding. Cook them gently, until browned on both sides-- about 4 to 5 minutes per side.
6. Serve Bannock cakes and bacon together, with a liberal drizzle of maple syrup. Drink tea in a brotherly gesture to our Northern friends.
7. Sit back and muster as much enthusiasm as you can for the Olympics as you can.
*Years ago, the Canadian periodical McClean's ran a contest in which readers were asked to complete the phrase "As Canadian as..." as some sort of northerly response to "As American as apple pie." The winning response? "As Canadian as possible under the circumstances."