Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fried Dough Odyssey

Growing up, my brother and I loved when mom made homemade bread. If we were lucky, she would save us a little bit of the dough so we could flatten it out between our hands, then fry it in some butter in a pan on the stove. Maybe add a little rhubarb jam or molasses afterwards. Toutons, we called them. So yummy!

Sometimes when we went camping as a family, or when we went camping with the Girl Guides or the Boy Scouts, we would wrap the dough around sticks and roast it over the fire. Smoky mouthwatering goodness, straight from the hot coals to our eager maws.

These days, mom doesn't make bread in the old bread bowl, but she and dad do use a breadmaker. No stovetop toutons, though. But she does make an incredible onion pudding:

Norma's Onion Pudding
1 cup flour
2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp baking powder
1 medium onion grated

a bit of sugar

Mix flour butter, baking powder, salt and sugar together. Add onion and milk to make a soft dough. Grease pan, cover and boil over water or bake in oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Try centre to check that it is done.
This one is steamed, but we like it baked better.
In 1998 my daughter Amber and I moved to Pond Inlet, Nunavut. There we fell in love with bannock. We eagerly waited for special occasions at the school, like Inuit Games Day, where one of the stations that the children rotated through was the refreshment tent. It served hot deep fried bannock, fresh out of the cooking oil. Amber and the other children would gobble it down as fast as it could be made. There was nothing quite like fresh bannock cooked outside and eaten outside.

I lost my recipe years ago in an unfortunate moving incident. I had a bag that was filled with all my old recipes, some of them irreplaceable as the people who had shared them with me had passed on. My then-husband, thinking he was being helpful, saw the bag sitting in the kitchen and threw it in the dumpster near our townhouse. Before I realized the bag was missing, the dumpster had been emptied. Bye bye recipes.

I recently sent out a plea to my friends in Pond, hoping to replace my bannock recipes.

"For frying, 2 cups of flour, 1tsp baking powder. And salt if you want and 1 cup water mix it up," said Donna Pitseolak-Kublu, who got the recipe from Morty Pitseolak, who was the post-mistress in Pond when we lived there. Get some cooking oil good and hot and drop in pieces of the dough and fry until done. I asked Donna, "And what about the one that you bake? The recipe's almost the same, I think, but maybe has a little sugar in it? and oil?" This is the way that Rebecca Qitsualik, the elder who taught me Inuktitut, made hers. She was an unusual woman, the only Inuit elder at the time who was trilingual in Inuktitut, Innuinaqtung, and English. (Her favourite food was Philadelphia cream cheese, because it tasted just like the baby seal stomach that her parents used to feed her as a child. Think about that the next time you eat a bagel!) Donna replied, "I don't put sugar in mine. I find it too sweet. I remember my late mother Seanna used to use flour, baking powder , salt and little bit of oil and water and she wouldn't use any measuring cup." 
Courtesy of

Incidentally, Donna's mother made my kamiks - traditional boots made from caribou leg skin with the fur attached and an inlaid chevron design of alternating black and white seal fur. They were stunningly beautiful. She also made matching kamiks for the guy I was with at the time, but his had the fur reversed - the main part of the boot was made from sealskin and the design from caribou. She explained that these were wedding kamiks - the man's used a sea animal and a little bit of land animal, while the woman's used a land animal and a little bit of sea animal. This way, the family would always be provided for, because the man would not insult the sea creatures while out on the ice, and the woman would not insult the sea creatures back home on the land.

But, back to the fried dough....

Naomi Tigullaraq, my friend and former teaching colleague at Ulaakjuk School, told me, " I never measure mine, when I'm making one, might give you the wrong measurement. Flour, water, baking powder, lard or oil, and pinch of salt if you want to add some, and some people used milk instead of water."

And my former student Nina Kautaq said, "We just dump everything together."

This reminds of the old Newfoundland cookbook my mother has, which lists the ingredients, and that's it. No step-by-step instructions, no oven temperature, no bake time. Those were things you were expected to know already!

In 2002 I went to China. There we had salted youtiao, long strips of fried dough, with our morning breakfast congee, or rice porridge. In the late afternoon, we might sometimes have a similar dish called tanggao, but shorter and dipped into sugar. Either way, they were yummy. 
"Chinese fried bread". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
In 2007, I moved to a Dene community in the Northwest Territories. Again, bannock was heavy on the menu at any cultural or school event. Sometimes they deep-fried it, but just as often they pan-fried it, like Newfoundland toutons.

3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp baking powder
1/3 cup oil
1 1/2 cups water

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Mix the wet ingredients together in a measuring cup. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix together until it forms a ball. Knead on a floured surface until it is no longer sticky, adding a little more flour if necessary. Divide into two or three pieces, depending on the size of your frying pan. Flatten each piece to about 1 inch thickness. Fry in a greased pan on medium heat for about fifteen minutes each side. Serve with jam. 

In 2012 I moved to a Cree community in Manitoba. The Cree people love their bannock! And for good reason - fried or baked, smeared with butter and jam that drips down your doesn't get better than this! 
Elanor and a boy in her grade three class enjoying some fresh bannock.

The remains of the bannock station at cultural days after a class had passed through.

We were invited for supper at a the home of a friend from church a couple of Sundays ago. Well, not exactly their home. Her mother-in-law's home, because it was close to where we lived and they didn't want us to get lost going to their own home, which is apparently in some little village some distance from here.

While Steve has been in typical Sri Lankan homes before, it was my first time. We walked down the long lane through the small Tamil neighbourhood near the beach in Negombo. The front yard was immaculately swept - a chore performed every morning by the woman of the house - and the front door was surrounded by a large beautiful jasmine bush. We entered the small home and sat chatting with our friend for a while. As we chatted, she formed the dough that her mother-in-law had made into flat little rounds, and began frying them. They were delicious.

Then her mother-in-law came home, removed those from the table, and replaced them with ones that she herself had made! Only the best for guests - and while our friend's dough was great, her mother-in-law's was incredible. (It reminded me of my own bread-making experiences with my daughter, Amber. We could follow the exact same recipe, but her bread always tasted better than mine.)

So, now I have eaten the lightest, thinnest fried dough I have ever had. Crispy on the outside, with pockets of warm soft dough inside in some places, bubbles of air in others.

I had four.

Maybe five.

Or six.

Plus the two I had already eaten that were made by our friend.

Now I have to get that recipe!