Bring Back The Bannock! Is the first of the Cateran Ecomuseum’s INHERITage sessions, especially designed by Jane Wilkinson of Special Branch Baskets for their Museum Of Rapid Transition programme.
Inspired by the natural and cultural heritage of the Ecomuseum, this three-year programme is aimed at helping local communities and visitors take rapid climate action and transition to more regenerative ways of living. In a nutshell, the initiative will show how the story of our past can help guide the story of our future.
The focus for the Bring back The Bannock! session was on one of our staple foods – bread – what it was made from in the past and how it was made. After enjoying the age-old Scottish tale of ‘The Wee Bannock’, participants learned how to build and light a fire from scratch, hand grind grain using stones (in this case sourced from the Alyth Burn!), make butter by shaking it in a jar and most importantly make Bannocks! The recipe followed was from Fiona J. Houston’s book ‘The Garden Cottage Diaries – My year in the 18th century’, and the ancient grain used was Bere Barley, (pronounced Bear), sourced from the famous Barony Mill in Orkney.
Jane explained the provenance of Bere, which has been grown in Scotland since as far back as the eighth or ninth century, making it the country’s oldest cereal in continuous commercial cultivation. It is what is known as a landrace. This is a term given to a species of plant that has developed over time and adapted to its natural and cultural environment – in Bere’s case, tolerance of the cool temperatures and short growing season of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Bere was grown in large amounts up until the early 20th century, but with the development of new barley varieties through plant breeding, it fell largely by the wayside due to its lower yielding capacity, as the newer varieties were more profitable.
Nowadays most of our bread flour comes from Canada and the Ukraine, and as a result, its carbon footprint is huge in comparison to locally grown grains. Additionally modern grains have been bred to be higher in gluten (which makes the bread fluffier), which partially explains the levels of gluten intolerance many people now have and the processing they undergo to make today’s supermarket bread means they are much less nutritious.
One of the key messages of the session, in addition to the importance of reducing our carbon footprint by eating more locally produced food, is that these heritage grains are more than a historical curiosity. They have a superior nutritional profile that can nourish healthy citizens while providing local farmers with a fair and reliable return.
Feedback on the session has been very favourable and the Ecomuseum aims to run them again once funding allows. One participant’s comment summed up the many: “This workshop was so enjoyable! Jane is a gifted and passionate teacher, and her demonstration gave the impression that she’s been baking bread all her life. Everything flows. And you make workshop attendee feel at home right from the start, it’s like visiting a very good friend for a chat in the garden.”
Ancient Grain flour can be sourced in Tayside from Scotland The Bread in Fife.