authors

Pan Bread the Old Western Way

Anyone who follows my blog knows I love Westerns (here’s the link to my Western Book Review category). One of my favorite authors is Robert Thomas. His 113+series about US Marshall/bounty hunter Jess Williams, who hunts only the worst of the worst outlaws, is one of my favorites. Jess Williams fights injustice, follows the law, and helps those who can’t help themselves. The stories are set during my preferred post-Civil War time frame of 1866-1899, an era in America’s west when fighting Indians had almost ended, Western law hadn’t yet solidified (US Marshalls and Town Marshalls aside) so outlaws often rode roughshod over good citizens, the Pony Express had been replaced by stagecoaches, themselves being replaced by trains, indoor toilets were the rage in the best hotels, the sewing machine was beginning to make clothing more abundant, canned goods were becoming popular (especially peaches), and so much more.

Our hero, Jess Williams, still rode his trusty horse from one western town to another, slept on the trail, and cooked his meals over an open fire. That’s what I’m going to talk about today, in this post.

Jess often eats beef jerky or peaches from a can, brews his Arbuckles in a dented coffee pot (I started drinking Arbuckles because Jess swears by it), but also likes cooking meals in a cast iron pan he carries on his pack horse. A meal he often prepares is called pan bread–unleavened bread spiced with whatever he has available. It sounds so good, my sister and I (also a Jess Williams fan) decided to try it out. I couldn’t find a recipe so I contacted the author, Robert Thomas, not expecting an answer.

Boy howdy was I wrong! He sent me instructions!

Hi Jacqui, I never wrote down a recipe, but it’s simple to make. Just take flour and water and mix it to something like a pancake batter. use an eight-inch pan and put some oil in it. (Jess would have used lard) Pour the mixture into the pan about a half inch thick and cook on very low heat.

It should start to thicken and that’s when you drop anything you want into the batter. Raisins, nuts, berries, small pieces of fruit, or nothing at all.

Once it sets up on the bottom, move to the sink and flip it to cook the other side. It should be brown on the bottom when you flip it.

Let it continue to cook until a toothpick or fork comes out clean.

Let it cool a bit and rip apart. It might take a few practice runs before you get the hang of it. Flipping it can be tricky because it fills the pan. You can even mix some corn meal into the batter if you want.

Enjoy!

Robert

Flour, water, and something for flavor. I can’t wait to taste it!

Thank you, Robert Thomas, for sharing your recipe!

–image from Deposit Photos


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Man vs. Nature saga, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the acclaimed Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Summer 2022

80 thoughts on “Pan Bread the Old Western Way

  1. That was amazing! You should have entered the WEP this month with that letter! Have you tried flipping the bread yet? That IS going to be the tricky part.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh my God, he answered you! How cool is that? And you really have a handle on necessary information about the time period. Why should I be surprised? Heh. Now I know who to bother, err, call when I get stuck on a research issue. Grin.
    PS 113 novels? I’ll never catch up.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for sharing the story and recipe!.. while I like a good challenge, it is probably best I leave the baking of pan bread to someone else as if I do it, it will probably spend more time on the floor than in the pan.. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May your day be touched
    by a bit of Irish luck,
    Brightened by a song
    in your heart,
    And warmed by the smiles
    of people you love.
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll be expecting a full taste test report. From my backpacking days I can tell you that all food cooked outdoors on an open fire tastes wonderful after a long day of hiking. The same food cooked in a clean kitchen after a nice shower tastes bland and makes you wonder why you liked it on the trail.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. PS
    I just posted my bleak house book takeaways and you were on my mind when I went with the “A to Z” approach –
    I had more than 20 ideas and somehow made it for the A to Z – just wanted to share that because I know you chipped away on your fun a to
    Z For a while and I love how you did it –
    Hope you are having a nice start to the week

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Now how cool
    Is This that the author got back with you!
    What a nice man and I bet that kindness trickled into his books!
    Oh and I didn’t realize you liked westerns!
    I am
    One day going to read all
    Of my Louis L’Amore books – they are waiting for me

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That is so cool that he replied and gave you the recipe! That’s super fun. Did you try it? How was it? My dad used to make bannock when we were out on the trail, a Scottish skillet bread that sounds somewhat similar. We loved it when it was still warm.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hi Jacqui!

    How cool that author Robert answered your email and sent you some pan-bread instructions.

    Since we rarely have an oven, Mark has been making pan-bread for ages. We got the recipe from a sailing friend (who had an oven but didn’t want to warm the boat up too much in the tropics), who still swears by it, too.

    Not only is it tasty and simple, but it is much quicker to make than real bread. Like Robert says, flipping the bread is the most difficult part, especially figuring out when. We often put “everything but the bagel” spice from Trader Joe’s in it.

    Here is our recipe if you’re interested:

    3 cups of flour
    1.25 cups of warm water
    1 (heaped) teaspoon yeast
    1 teaspoon salt
    some ground coriander and caraway or other herbs

    Mix ingredients with a spoon (likely will need to add some more water to
    get a good dough), stretch the dough by hand, and then place into a lightly
    oiled pan, leave standing for 1 hour (or until it has risen nicely), bake
    10 min. on a small flame on the stove with a lid on the pan (took a bit
    longer before I felt I could flip it), flip the bread over and bake
    another 10 min. with the lid slightly open. If it’s not light-brown/golden
    yet, just flip another time and ‘bake’ another few minutes on a bigger flame.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. As I was reading the comments, I kept thinking of bannock, and then Lynette mentioned it. It sounds like this bread is what you make when you’re a little bit more desperate than if you could make bannock (basically the same recipe but with a bit of baking powder and salt). The result will be less chewy and won’t sit in your gut like glue. But it’s like you said, out on the range pan bread would taste much better than made at home.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Hi Jacqui. This is so cool. I always struggle to feed my Western characters properly while being authentic to the times. I think it is wonderful that you tried this out for yourself. I may have to try it, too. How did it taste?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve learned a lot about Western habits from Jess Williams. Robert Thomas is ‘older’ but he must have a personal fable that includes Western cowboys because he knows everything about that era.

      Like

  11. Good post! That’s the era most of my historical writing has been. While much is made of the West and living out “under the stars,” the West then (and now) has been the most urban part of the United States. Yes, tinned peaches were the rave, but after the railroad came through in the early 70s, the best restaurants in Virginia City would have oysters and other delights. The bread sounds a lot like how I make cornbread, expect that it’s baked in an oven so no need to flip it. Another way would be to use a cast iron dutch oven.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is precise, but there’s a lot of fiction written about it. It’s that romantic Old West before cars took over, when justice prevailed, where the ‘women are strong and the men are handsome’ (in the words of Garrison Keillor)

      She said it tastes good–flour and water–but we’ll add a little more flavor when I see her.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. H Jacqui – what a fun post to come across … reminds me a little of Pemmican – which I wrote about when I was in Canada doing the A-Z then … but also as above Lynette mentions … bannock. If I had kids/grand ones … I’d be letting them try this … and great you and your sister enjoy similar reading habits! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

  13. It’s so cool that he sent you the recipe. It sounds like what we called sailor bread. Lasts a long time. We used it instead of bread in the boonies and put Jiffy on it. (Yes, I know it’s “Jif,” in reality. A Mandela Effect thing.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • It would be perfect for bread. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jess wrapped it around meat of some sort or honey.

      Someone wrote about the ‘Mandela Effect’. It was the first time I’d ever heard of it. It reminds me of a favorite book of mine, The Way We Never Were.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Super he wrote back, Jacqui! Like the recipe, the authors of Westerns share excellent wisdom. Here’s my favorite from Louis L’Amour: “I’ve written all these stories without any pornography, without any obscenity. I grew up among sailors and miners and lumberjacks and the roughest kind men in the world, but I never found it necessary to use all that in the stories. I can make them real without that. I think much of that kind of writing is a coverup for lack of real skill.”

    Liked by 3 people

  15. This recipe is very similar to bannock, which was used by the northern explorers and is very popular in the north to this day. My workplace usually has bannock available. It originated in Scotland, I think. So good and very versatile. I love your favourite author’s trail version. Cheers.

    Liked by 4 people

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