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A Short History of Scottish Bannocks

By Crabbit McScunner, President of Western Plains Caledonian Society
Scottish ‘Bannocks’ have been popular for centuries with each generation adding something of ‘their ain’ to the old traditional recipes.
Highland Bannocks, often served with treacle, are probably the best known nowadays due to the work of Sir Walter Scott who popularised many of the Highlanders’ best loved recipes and sanitised them to suit southern palates.
But Border Bannocks also have a rich distinctive flavour that has been preserved thanks to the ‘honest folk’ of towns like Selfy, Dunsmidden, Cowpton, Sheugh and Feckhaugh who have kept alive the old recipes and even come up with some new concoctions to tempt the public, especially since the invention of the internet.
In a land which time forgot, and truth deserted soon after, some curious explanations have been put forward to explain the origins of Borders’ bannocks and traditions like the riding of the marches, the veneration of Thankerton Man, going out ‘guisin’ or knocking down primary schools to build carparks. Why? Well, it’s instructive to find out, and never more so than at this time of the year, when Borders townsfolk try to convince everyone that Thankerton Man was in their class at the school.
Border Bannocks first made their appearance in the works of the medieval balladeers – men and women renowned for their skill in turning a few simple ingredients into a fantastic work of fiction. Before long everyone was at it; producing bannocks flourished in the Borders particularly during the long dark winters when people had a lot of spare time on their hands and a lot of alcohol to drink.
A lot of bannocks were traditionally produced by the notorious Border ‘cooncillors’ (from the Old Scots word for an elected representative or chancer). Back in the days before accountability had been invented, the cooncillors were a law unto themselves. Sometimes they were just hoping to go on a trip to Mallorca (twin town of Mallpracktiss-on-Tweed) to collect new recipes and many did indeed submit exotic expenses claims when they returned. ‘Whit a load o bannocks!’ people would say when they saw them.
Some names today attest to the Borderers’ colourful past –Burgess, Provost, Conman, Swindler, Fraudster and Bliar are all still common terms of abuse in the Border region.
Surprisingly, despite the Borders’ turbulent history, there is never any anti-English flavour in the bannocks. That’s not what they contain at all. No siree Rab.
Note: if you are an English visitor to these parts and a Borders Cooncillor offers to shake your hand, you would be advised to count your fingers afterwards.

 

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Thankerton Man: he was in my class at the school

 

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