Globe-trotting Tea and Travel

Tea Al fresco, Part 1

Escape from the city

Last month we spent a week in Canada’s Laurentian Shield, about 275 Km north of Toronto. Also known as the Canadian or Precambrian Shield, it is comprised of the hard crystalline remains of a heavily eroded mountain system, between 300 and 600 million years old. Most of the exposed rock is igneous granite which at a certain angle sparkles in the sun.

Every afternoon we packed up our gear, left the cabin and canoed to a back lake, disembarking on a small island surrounded by crown land. Untouched and wild, this was a perfect setting to kick back, breathe the sweet clean air and prepare a cup of tea. There isn’t any long-burning wood on the island, but there is plenty of dry kindling the get the fire started. Dead dry juniper is the densest wood to be found, but it is not a very hard wood and you need a good pile to keep the fire going. It is for this reason that we have started to bring charcoal briquettes. I spread these along the bottom of the firepit and built the fire on top. It takes very little time before they are glowing and ready to boil water for tea. I chose a Wuyi Rock Oolong – seemed fitting.

This granite island is a tiny specimen of the Canadian Precambrian Shield. Pink, grey and covered with lichen
Thousands of waterlilies float on the surface of Canada's northern lakes
It takes very little coaxing to build this small fire on the edge of the marshy shoreline. We are very careful to keep the fire small and make sure that all embers are doused before leaving the island
My little camp pot sat over the hot coals. It took its time, but eventually came to a bubble
Wuyi Rock Oolong (seemed fitting) served on lichen covered rocks.
It was fun to make a small bannock (traditional Scottish pan-cooked cake) to go with the tea

Bannock Recipe:

Bannock is a traditional griddle cake originating from Scotland and Northern England. It would have been cooked on a flat piece of sandstone (I’d like to try that) but now is usually prepared in a frying pan, although it is not a greasy bread. It’s more like a very thick and dense pancake. You start with the usual ingredients, in quantities to match the pan you are using. Mine was a very small camp pot and I cooked 4 batches of bannock.

  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour or other sturdy flour.
  • 2 tbsps. cane sugar
  • 2 tbsps of butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 C. rolled oats
  • 2 tbsps. sunflower seeds
  • handful currants
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. milk powder
  • 1/2+ C. water

You can try other types of nuts and dried fruit or none at all.  You could make savoury bannock using chives, cheese or olives.  I mixed all the ingredients together in a plastic ziploc bag. It was a bit messy, but it worked.

Put a dab of butter in the pan. Place the pan on coals until hot and add first batch of batter or if you have a larger frying pan add the whole lot. When the sides of the cake start to dry and air bubbles appear on top, it is time to flip. I used a spoon and it worked quite well. Leave for another few minutes and test.

I consider bannock a seasonal treat. I made it often during a summer of canoeing years ago in the far north of Saskatchewan. It is the camper’s version of a scone, but a bit heftier and because it is cooked in the open air you feel a kind of primal satisfaction when eating it. It is definitely not the same when prepared in a kitchen.

It paired well with the Wuyi Rock Oolong, but really most oolongs or black teas taste great with bannock. Tea seemed to blend seamlessly into the ritual of making the bannock. There was always room for another pot of water on the fire, so for each bannock there was a new infusion of Oolong. When you are in the fresh air, the sun is shining brightly on the longest day of the year, birds are calling each other across the lake, you are surrounded by wilderness in every direction and except for the distant sounds of the highway and nearby railway there is no sign of other human life, tea which is so suited to the aesthetic of this picturesque landscape, becomes a warm friend.