Bannocks Galore

As told by Marie Louise Cochrane

Once there was a boy and his mother living as best they could through a hard winter. Money was scarce and their stores of oatmeal were running out. They both ate as little as possible to eke out their supplies, but the time came when there was only a tiny amount of meal left.

The mother scraped every tiny bit of it together, and with a pinch of salt, and a tiny smear of fat made one last bannock for her son.

As they both watched it cook on one side til it was to be turned on the girdle, first they noticed that it started sort of twitching, and then both cried out in disbelief, as they saw the bannock leap off the girdle and go rolling off across the floor and out the door.

The boy was so hungry that he was determined to eat it anyway and set off running after it, chasing it tirelessly along the road and through some fields, until it made its way into the side of a hill.

The boy somehow managed to follow it into an entrance to the hill. At first it was completely dark in there and then he saw the light of a fire.

He walked towards the source of the light cautiously, hoping to catch the bannock unawares. There no sign to be had of the bannock but what he did find, was a huge old woman stirring an enormous pot.

Her appearance was terrifying to the boy, not only was she unusually tall in stature, but she had wild bushy eyebrows and one eye drooping down.

Transfixed, the boy watched her for a while, and then he realised something, this tall scary looking woman leaning over her pot, could not see.

Still looking hungrily around for his bannock, the boy then spotted a massive bag of flour. A bag too big for this half starved young lad to carry.

He worked out however that there was flour to be had there for many bannocks, if only he could work out a way to carry it home without lifting the whole bag and being caught in the process.

Being a quick thinking lad, he had an idea, he whipped off his breeks and tied a knot in the bottom of each leg, crawled along the door so silently and smoothly that the woman didn’t notice him. When he got to the flour, as quietly as a mouse, he filled each leg of his breeks until they were stuffed with flour.

Scantily clad now, he crawled even more carefully along the floor, passing the woman, finding his way out and back to his mother.

Well the flour kept them going for a few weeks, but the time came when it was all gone and there was no money to buy more . So the boy returned to that place where the woman stirred at her pot, silently filling a bag this time and crawling out.

By the third visit the woman had of course, noticed the bag going down and so was listening out at all times for the sound of a thieving intruder, be it animal or human.

This third time she was on such high alert that a little snuffle from the boy was enough to tell her that she was receiving an uninvited visitor.

She grabbed the boy, whacking him with her great spurtle. “Ah ha I have you” she cried, “Stealing my flour, the very food from under my nose. Well now it is your turn to be the food under my nose, I shall fatten you up and add you to my soup, it’s been a bit watery of late and could do with some meaty stock…”

A few weeks before that boy would have been so weak he could not have fought back, but now he found himself with a bit more strength, and was determined not to end up in the pot, so he pushed hard with all his might at the old woman’s legs, then he shouted as loudly as he could. “I will never be your soup!” And with that she stumbled back into her own huge pot.

The boy grabbed what was left of the sack of the flour and ran home to his mum.

He told his mother the tale and she was pleased to see him safe and well but she sighed and said “Well I suppose that will be the end of the flour then. When it’s finished, that will be that.”

But when they got to the end of the bag they discovered something amazing happened. Just before it ran out entirely they discovered it magically filled right up to the top once again !!!

And so it was that the two of them never ever ran out of flour, and there were many more bannocks to come to the end of their days and not one of them ran away from them.

Many thanks to Claire Hewitt for originally sharing her version of this with me.