I’ve got a history with my dad. Last year he had his larynx removed due to cancer and this is our first visit since the surgery. He is quieter and can’t speak as much. Most people won’t remember my dad like this but since his laryngeal cancer diagnosis, he has changed. He can still be an ill-tempered old man, but at least he is now a quiet ill-tempered old man. I do my best to move on and involve my kids in their mosóm’s life. We see him at least once a year and now when he visits us in Alert Bay the boys get to tell their friends about their cyborg mosóm with his tracheoesophageal prothesis. Side note: its a great way to scare the hell out of kids and teach them to never smoke.
I asked my dad if we could make some bannock, but not the crispy fry bread style that we eat here on the West Coast. I wanted the kind that I grew up eating, the dry biscuit cooked in the oven and called by a multitude of names: bannock, la galet, baanak, pahkwesikan. I could go on about how the introduction of flour and sugar into our ancestors diets was a colonial act of cultural genocide… Or I could explore how bannock isn’t the healthiest option for our people now or ever… But not this time, right now I want to share how myself, my boys and my dad connected today while making bannock.
I ask my dad what we need while he is digging into his pant pockets, pulling out some neatly folded five dollar bills. I don’t understand why he is bringing out his money so I just start collecting what I think we need, white flour, sugar, baking soda, lard, milk and my camera. I glance over and on the counter he is carefully unfolding a piece of paper that was wrapped up with his bills. It is his bannock and fry bread recipes. Whaaaat? He carries around his bannock recipes like he carries his money. Since he carries it with his money, does that mean I can share it with others? I don’t bother asking because I know the answer is NO WAY.
I grab my camera and start documenting the bannock making session. My dad wasn’t pleased with me taking the photos so immediately he places his hand to cover the hole in his throat and in a raspy voice tells me NO and points at the flour and mixing bowl. I temporarily put my camera down. I mix the flour, baking powder, salt in a large bowl. First lesson: Melt the lard and margarine. If my dad wasn’t pointing with his lips as to what I was to do next, I personally would have used butter over the margarine. But it is his recipe, so I must keep doing as I am told but with few words just head shaking, nods and lip pointing.
He points to the milk and I measure it out but as I am about to pour it into a bowl, he shakes his head then tells me that it must be at room temperature. Second lesson: Warm the milk with sugar on the stovetop. Aha moment. This must explain why my bannock is so hard and flat. While things are melting and warming up on the stovetop, I grab my camera and start taking pictures. He gives me a look, I put down the camera, and start pouring in the margarine and Tender Flake. Mix. Then I add the warm milk and sugar. I mix.
Now this is the part I always mess up; I always over mix my bannock. I look to my father for guidance because I don’t want to f*ck up this bannock and I want my sons and husband to be proud of the woman in their life who knows how to make good bannock. (yeah, what is up with us and our pride around bannock making skills?) I tell him that I always over knead the dough and he points and nods as I mix. He tells me to place it on a floured surface then roll it and knead it, which I do. Lesson three: Be gentle but not too gentle with your bannock. Having the warm liquids in the mixture, makes a huge difference with the texture of the bannock, it feels stretchier and not so tough.
I manage to convince him to take over because I want to see how he shapes his bannock. With my dusty hands I pick up my camera and take a few photos of my dad patting down and shaping it into something vaguely rectangle-like. Once he is done he motions his chin towards the cookie sheet and asks me for aluminum foil. He places the foil on the cookie sheet while I take more photos.
Then he places the bannock onto the foiled cookie sheet, pokes it with a fork and places it into the oven. Quietly I clean up the kitchen while he sips his coffee that is spiked with Sambuca. He says it is his sweetener. Minutes later, my eldest son comes in to ask about the smell and looks inside the oven to have a glimpse of what is baking inside the oven. The house smells good which is a sign that the bannock must be done soon.
Dad comes into the kitchen and opens the oven, flips the bannock and checks the bottom to make sure that it is done. He nods. The bannock is ready.