Alimentary, My Dear
Our Daily Bread
By Tamia Nelson
A Note to the Reader
Even veteran back-country travellers get a little "confused" now and
again, and that's what's happened to Ed and Brenna, the heros of Trip of a
Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress. Don't worry, though.
They'll be back on September 4th, in a double installment that will take
them right through to the end of the final shake-down cruise before their
Big Trip begins.
Are you joining us for the first time? And do you want to see what our
Trip is all about? Just use the hot-linked title to go to the
In the Same Boat Archives. Every one of the seventeen
previously-published chapters is there. Or are you a regular reader who's
finding that you, too, are getting a bit confused? Help is on the way.
We'll have a plot summary and list of characters ready on September 4th.
That should help all of us stay found!
August 14, 2001
Bread is wonderful stuff, but it doesn't
travel well. Supermarket loaves are mostly air, and after a few days
crammed into one corner of a Duluth sack, even a dense pumpernickel will
look a little battered. Worse yet, it will probably have started to grow
a green beard of mold. That's not very appetizing. Still, the
alternatives aren't very attractive, either. Crackers and crisp-breads
aren't really good substitutes, and pancake breakfasts are too
time-consuming for anything but rest-day camps.
The result? A craving that Farwell calls "bread hunger." It's not a
problem on weekend trips, but by Day Four on most longer excursions both
of us are already missing fresh bread.
Happily, it doesn't have to be this way. There's a whole world of
breads that are easy to prepare on the move, and you don't have to be a
baker's apprentice to make them. If you haven't done so already, why not
give one of these a try on your next long trip? I'm betting your first
bite of fresh, hot, fragrant bread ten days into a one-month trip will
convince you that the effort was worthwhile.
You've never baked before? No problem. To begin with, take a lesson
from our ancestors. Most bread nowadays is yeast bread, but it hasn't
always been that way. The first bread was probably made from a simple
grain-and-water paste, baked on a hot stone, and it's still with us.
Modern-day descendents include the Mexican tortilla and the Scots
oatcake, along with the Indian chapati. The grain is different in
each casecorn (maize to Brits), oats, or wheatbut the
formula's the same, and the resulting "flatbread" is both delicious and
easy to make. It's versatile, too. It can be eaten as is, or used as a
trencher (a sort of edible plate) for things like grilled fish,
dal (lentils), or plain old pork and beans. Spread peanut butter
or honey over it, or use it as a pizza crust. I like to put a little
mustard on one half of a slab of flatbread, place thin-sliced cheddar
cheese on the mustard, and then fold the remaining half of the bread back
over on itself. The resulting flatbread sandwich is a little like a soft
OK. How do you get started? It's not hard. To prepare flatbread you'll
need a large (10") skillet. I use properly-seasoned cast iron. It's
heavy, but it works so well that I don't mind the weight. Thick cast
aluminum would probably be equally good, but I'm not a great fan of
non-stick coatings for camp cookery. I don't like eating plastic. Be sure
to keep a pot-holder or insulated glove handy. The handle of a cast iron
skillet gets very hot, and third-degree burns will kill even the
heartiest appetite! You'll also want a big pot or bowl in which to mix
the dough. (Your largest cooking pot will work fine.) A small cutting
board is useful, tooa clean paddle is goodand a work table is
always nice to have. I often use the bottom of an upturned canoe or
kayak. After giving it a quick rinse to wash off any sand or muck, I've
got a larger workspace than I have at home.
You'll also need a source of heat, of course. You can bake bread over
coals or you can use a camp stove, but if you're going to rely on an open
fire, plan on getting plenty of practice first. You'll need it. A
portable stove with a well-modulated flame gives you much better control,
and you won't need to spend precious minutes scrounging for firewood,
either. For this reason, and for others, as wellmany popular
wilderness campsites have long since been stripped of every scrap of
usable wood, for examplemost cooks will probably prefer a stove,
but be sure that your skillet is adequately supported. You may find that
you want to add a supplementary grill.
Now lets try our first bread!
(makes four breads)
2 cups all-purpose flour*
(NB You'll need additional flour for dusting)
1 teaspoon salt
about 1 cup water
Begin this recipe at least 40 minutes before you plan to start
Mix flour and salt thoroughly in a bowl. Add half the water, stir it
into the flour, and then gradually add more as you mix the dough with a
spoon (or your fingers). Use no more water than is necessary to form a
dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
Now knead your dough by lifting the edge farthest from you, folding it
back over the remaining ball of dough, and pressing down with the heel of
your hand. Then rotate the bowl a quarter-turn and do it again. Repeat
this for about eight (8) minutes, or until you have a smooth, elastic
ball of dough. If the dough is really sticky, dust it with flour. Don't
overdo this, though, or your dough will be tough. Once your dough is
ready, cover the mixing bowl with a damp cloth or a lid and allow it to
sit for at least 30 minutes. This permits the dough to "relax" and makes
it easier to work with later.
When you're ready to begin baking, place your skillet over a high
flame on the stove (or over a bed of hot coals). The skillet must be
very hot. There's no need to add oil.
Dust your hands with flour. Divide the dough into four roughly-equal
pieces, either by pulling off hunks with your hands or by cutting the
ball into quarters with a flour-dusted knife. Now pat the first quarter
of dough into a flat cake with your palms, stretching the dough thin
while retaining a roughly circular shape.
Next, dust the circular cake of raw dough with flour so it won't
stick, and place it in the hot skillet. Let the bread cook about one (1)
minute, or until brown and black spots appear on the under surface. (Lift
the edge of the dough with a spatula to check.) The bread may also rise
slightly. Now turn the flatbread over. Experienced cooks working at home
sometimes use their fingers to do this, but there's no Emergency Room in
the woods. Use your spatula! Then cook for an additional 30 seconds, or
until the underside loses its "raw" appearance. Once it's done, remove
the cooked bread to a warm place. (You can stack flatbreads like
pancakes.) Start on the next one right away.
When all four breads are cooked, take the skillet off the heat and put
it somewhere safe. Unless you want a skillet-sized hole in your canoe, do
not set it down on your "work table"! Using a spatula or tongs,
place each cooked flatbread directly over the stove's flame, or on a
grill over the fire. Allow the bread to stay in the flame for only a
second or two, and then turn it over. It may puff up like a pillow, but
don't worry. It will deflate as soon as it's removed from the heat.
Repeat with each of the other breads. They're now ready to serve. If you
want to save them for later, allow them to cool completely and place them
in a sealable plastic bag.
* For something a little different, substitute 1 cup of all-purpose
flour and 1 cup of whole-wheat flour.
Does all this patting and kneading sound like too much trouble? Then
try bannock. An ancient Scots staple, bannock was brought to
North America by the Hudson Bay Company's Scottish "servants," and it's
stayed on as a camp treat ever since. Unlike the fur-trade favorite,
though, modern bannock is a soda-leavened breadit will make
pan-loaves that are almost two inches thick. When cut into triangles and
slathered with butter or preserves, there's nothing more delicious. You
can even make a bannock pizza. I'll bet George Simpson never had that!
(makes one 9" bannock)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (NOT plain baking soda!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1 cup water
corn oil or other cooking oil
A single bannock will take about 25-30 minutes to prepare,
including mixing time.
Preheat your skillet over hot coals or high flame. While it's heating,
mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Next, make a hollow in the
center of the mix and pour in 1/2 cup of water. Stir, using a spoon, and
adding as much extra water as needed to form a stiff, easily-worked
dough. (You may have to knead the dough with floured hands to make it
relatively smooth.) When ready, lift the dough and pat it into a round
cake about one (1) inch thick and eight (8) inches in diameter.
Pour enough corn oil into the hot skillet to coat the base of the pan.
When the oil is hot enough to make a pea-sized lump of dough sizzle,
place the pre-formed cake of bannock dough in the skillet and cover with
a lid, immediately reducing the flame to medium-high. If cooking over
coals, move the skillet to a cooler part of the fire. Bake till the
bannock's bottom is golden brown. (Lift the edge with a spatula or fork
to check. Don't be surprised if you see some dark flecks.) This usually
takes about five (5) minutes. Once the bottom is done, turn the bannock
over with your spatula and lower the heat still further. (Push the coals
apart some if using an open fire.) Cover the skillet again, and cook till
the bannock is done all the way throughanother five (5) minutes
longer should do the trick. You'll know your bannock is ready when a
sliver of wood inserted into the center comes out clean, with no sticky
dough clinging to it.
After the bannock is baked, remove the skillet from the heat and slice
the bread into triangles before serving. If you want to keep it for
later, take the bannock out of the skillet and allow it to cool
completely before packing it away.
NB If you'd like to try a sweet bannock, mix some sugar into the dry
ingredients, or fold raisins or other chopped dried fruit into the dough
after blending in the water. You can also flavor your bannock with dried
herbs or spices, mixing them into the dry ingredients before adding
water. Toujours l'audace! Be bold!
Still too much trouble? Before you decide to get by with store-bought
crackers, try biscuits made from Bisquick or another boxed mix.
Tamia's No-Sweat Skillet Biscuits
(makes nine biscuits)
1 rounded cup Bisquick or other biscuit mix
flour or biscuit mix for dusting
scant 1/2 cup water
corn oil or other cooking oil
Skillet biscuits will take about 20-25 minutes to prepare.
Oil your skillet and heat over a medium-high flame or moderately hot
coals. While the skillet is heating, blend water into the biscuit mix
until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Start with less water than
you need and add more as the dough formsit's much easier to add
water than it is to remove it! Dust your hands and the surface of your
cutting board with some flour or biscuit mix. Knead your dough lightly
until it isn't quite so sticky, adding small amounts of biscuit flour as
needed. Don't overdo the flour, though, or your biscuits will be tough.
Once the dough is ready, smooth it into a square about eight inches on
a side. Cut the dough into three rows, and then divide the three rows
into three columns, making nine biscuits in all. Pinch off a pea-sized
lump of dough and drop it into the skillet. When the lump sizzles, the
skillet is hot enough. Now separate the square biscuits and place them in
the skillet, distributing them evenly. Do not allow biscuits to overlap.
Cook till the biscuits are golden brown on the bottom. This will take
about three (3) minutes. Then turn them over, cover the skillet, reduce
the heat to low, and bake the biscuits until they're cooked through. This
will take an additional five to ten minutes, depending on how hot the
flame (or fire) is. Don't try to hurry things along with too much
heatyou'll only char the outside, leaving the inside raw and gummy.
Test for doneness by inserting a sliver into one of the biscuits. If the
sliver comes out clean, your biscuits are done. Serve with butter,
margarine, or cheeseor (if the larder permits) use them to make a
great chicken-and-biscuit dinner.
There you have it: three pan-breads that don't need yeast. Unleavened
bread and bannock are chewy, make no mistake, but if they're prepared
properly, they'll be both delicious and digestible. No-sweat skillet
biscuits made from a commercial biscuit mix aren't as robust as those
made from scratch, but they're light, flavorful and a snap to make.
Better yet, all three breadstuffs satisfy Farwell's "bread hunger." We
both think these make pretty good additions to the recipe file.
Caution Try out any recipe before depending on it, first on
your stove at home and then on your camp stove (or a bed of coals).
Remember, too, that different flours behave differently. The amount of
liquid you need will depend on your flour, as well as on the relative
humidity. Don't be afraid to experiment. You can usually eat your
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go and whip up some biscuits
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights