Let me tell you how I first heard about Bannack, Montana. While surfing the TV with the remote (over 200 channels and still it seems there is not much to watch). I saw my name “BANJACK” flash across the screen. So, I stopped to watch and discovered it was Bannack and not Banjack, Montana. The show I happened upon was “Expedition Unknown” with Josh Gates. Being me, due to the similarity I had to check it out.
Today, Bannack is a ghost town and a state park. This state park is not real popular with tourists, but with people of the area and historians it is a favorite. Located at an elevation of 5,800 feet, covering 1,154 acres, the park offers up-to-date amenities. Escorted and unescorted tours of the area are offered mid-May through September.
Bannack was originally named Bannock, after the Bannock Tribes in the area. But, in Washington D.C. someone goofed – recording it as Bannack and it was never changed back. Founded in 1862 and in 1864 it was briefly the state capital of Montana.
Bannack is located in southwestern corner of Montana and sandwiched between Wyoming and Nebraska. Bannack peaked with thousands of people as a gold mining town. It started to dwindle down with the last resident leaving somewhere in the 1970s – leaving it a ghost town.
In 1961 the Bannack Historical District was listed as National Historical Landmark. Most of the town’s sixty structures remain intact. The businesses were constructed from logs and have decorative facades. There were and still stand today – three bakeries, two meat markets, three blacksmith shops, two stables, as well as a grocery store, a brewery, a restaurant, a billiard hall and four saloons.
Early on Bannack attracted Civil War deserters as well as the miners; these settlers were not prepared for the harsh Montana winters. Bannack had a reputation of being lawless. In 1863 Henry Plummer was hired to be the sheriff — hoping for him to bring law and order to the area. But he actually was suspected to be the leader of one of the largest vigilante groups that had a reputation of being lawless. These vigilante road gangs took the law into their own hands, leaving the town’s people at their mercy. Lynching was common with more than 100 people killed during that period. Each year during the third week of July the town once again comes alive. The heyday of Bannack is highlighted, featuring day-to-day living of its gold rush days. October offers Ghost Walks through the town.
Near-by neighbor is the town of Dillon which is approximately 25 miles east of Bannack. Dillon’s thriving as Bannack turned into a ghost town was credited to the Union Pacific Railroad and talc mining. Today Dillon’s largest employers are Barrett Mineral, Inc., Barrett Hospital & Health Care and Beaverhead County. Great Harvest Bread Company franchising headquarters is found in Dillon.
Montana is separated by the “Continental Divide” and offers a somewhat different climate. The western part of the state tends to be milder. There is only an average of 188 sunny days with a yearly average of 85” of snow. Bannack in the western part of the state averages about 71.” Summers offer an uncomfortable muggy climate due to the great amount of humidity.
Industries found in Montana are agriculture along with tourism, timber and mining. Livestock contributes about one-half of the dollars earned towards Montana’s industry calculations. 17.5 million acres of Montana is cultivated with crops. The primary crop is wheat in addition to squash, alfalfa, apples, grapes, potatoes, flax, field peas, dried beans and lentils. “Croplands” were developed to grow table foods of all kinds.
This first recipe is called Bannock Bread a staple to Native Americans. It is said this recipe may have originated in Nova Scotia. Bannock means oats and there are oats in this recipe. It is crumbly bread that can be mixed in minutes. The finished product resembles a scone.
Bannock Oats Bread
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ lb. butter, melted & cooled
½ cup water +
Whisk all the dry ingredients together evenly. Add melted and cooled butter; add water and stir until it is just blended. Do not over mix because the batter will make the bread heavy. Small lumps are okay as long as flour is in the batter. Lightly flour hands and place dough in a lightly creased pie plate, gently pat the dough into the plate evenly. Score the dough into wedges to make cutting bread easier after baking. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned with dark edges.
As Montana kitchens are getting ready for the holidays this recipe is a favorite. First make a basic batter to use several times by adding additional ingredients to the mix.
Basic Batter Mix
8 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 ½ Tbsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. baking powder
3 Tbsp. ground ginger
3 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
2 ¼ cup shortening
In a large bowl sift together all the dry ingredients together, twice. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two forks. It should resemble cornmeal. Store in a cool place in a lightly covered container.
When ready to make an actual one loaf of gingerbread cake – use 2 cups of the basic batter mix. In a separate bowl combine:
1 egg, beaten
½ cup dark molasses
½ cup boiling water
Spoon dry mix in to liquid and blend until it is smooth. Bake n 350-degree oven in an 8”x8”x2” pan for 35 to 40 minutes
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