Monday, August 6, 2012

Bannocks -- A Tribute to Marion Cunningham (Reposted from my Dinner Place blog)

A little apricot preserves...

 I never knew Marion Cunningham personally, but after my Mom, she pretty much taught me to cook and, perhaps more truly, to bake.  She died this last week (July 11, 2012--Read the LA Times obituary here) at the age of 90 after a lifetime of cooking, writing, and testing recipes for her cookbooks (Fanny Farmer, Fanny Farmer Baking Book, The Breakfast Book, etc.) and for her long-lived column in The San Francisco Chronicle.  She encouraged several generations of home cooks to... well, to just go on and cook.  Set the table and eat at home, please and thank you.

Her books and recipes were not cute, though they were entertaining.  They weren't novelesque, though they were terribly readable.  They were always sort of like Goldilocks' favorite bed--just right.  Accurate, concise, occasionally gently witty...above all correct, well-tested, and usable. If I couldn't remember the formula for cobbler topping, I grabbed The Fanny Farmer Baking Book.  For goodness sake, I STILL grab it.  If I was testing my own blueberry muffin recipe, I looked no further than Marion Cunningham for comparison. Not just because I knew the recipe would work, but because her entire life's belief in feeding oneself and one's loved ones well was warmed up, stirred in, and firmly baked into each and every page.

Food is a topic of conversation, she said. It can be an imprint that you pass onto someone else. It can be a shared experience. Sitting down and eating together is a binding quality for a family. Eating on the run doesn't cover all the bases it should.
She never was a star chef on "Chopped," (though she did have a cooking show, "Cunningham and Company," on the Food Network) and she didn't have lots of restaurants named after her, but all who knew her work respected and loved both her and the food-at-home she championed.  She worked with James Beard as his assistant for years, traveled with Alice Waters, and claimed Judith Jones as an editor.  Why she didn't make Gourmet Live's list of the 50 Women Game-Changers in Food was always beyond me.  So, Marion, my very own hero, in your tasty and fine memory, I today share your great Bannocks recipe for all far and wide.  I know there are delectable aromas whispering your name wafting toward heaven from all over the world today-- and always.  Thanks for the food and even more for encouraging the life that goes with it.  God speed.


 A bit about Bannocks:  A Scottish, gluten-free flat and buttery bread that can be used as a breakfast treat with butter and jam or honey, it's also a fine cracker for cheese, and a crunchy-buttery (not sweet) shortbread for anytime.  Before home had ovens, bannocks were cooked on a a griddle, but hung over the heating surface with chains.  Bannocks were then cooked more like pancakes.  You might try it when camping.   If you're a Dorothy Sayers fan, the British mystery writer mentions bannocks being cooked on a girdle in the book HAVE HIS CARCASE

Bannocks perhaps are a bit like scones in shape as they're triangular, though they are not tall and bread-like, and rather only about a crispy  1/4 -1/3" thick.  Lovely with soupI make these in the food processor in just a few minutes.  The recipe works fine at sea level and at altitude as is.
photo courtesy Gourmet

Bannocks by Marion Cunningham from The Breakfast Book
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup water
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
In a mixing bowl, toss the oats, flour, and salt together with a fork. Cut the cold butter into small pieces, toss it into the flour mixture, and rub it in until coarse bits form. Stir in the water until all the flour is absorbed.  (Can be done in the food processor if desired.) 
Gather the rough dough together and put it on a board lightly dusted with oat flour. Knead about 6 times. Divide the dough in half and pat each half into a circle about ¼- inch thick. Cut each circle into 4 wedges and arrange the wedges 1/2 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly colored.

 “Cooking is one of the legacies we can leave to the future, and I would like to be remembered for my baking. We all know we’re not immortal, but after I’m gone, I would like my son and daughter to be able to say, ‘Our mother made real yeast bread for breakfast.’”
  ~Marion Cunningham

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,


  1. I've never heard of Marion, but it sounds like I'm going to have to look her up the next time I'm at Chapters to take a look at her cookbooks. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Marion Cunningham also taught me to cook. The Fannie Farmer cookbook was one of my “go to” cookbooks as a young bride and it is still one of my most trusted books. I was very surprised by the names of those who didn’t make Gourmets list (especially Marion) and even more surprised by those who did make it! Some of those women couldn’t even shine the shoes of Marion Cunningham! A lovely tribute to a truly wonderful lady, Alyce!

  3. @ Ellen--go bake! @Kathy Belated thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments!

  4. wow what beautiful blog. Lovely blog spot.
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