Damper is a traditional Australian bread cooked on the coals of a camp fire by stockman and bushman and has been passed on to symbolise camping in the great outdoors. That’s my explanation anyway.
This is the meaning from the Australian National Dictionary Centre (which I didn’t even know existed till I tried to find out a bit more of the origins of it all!)
A simple bread made from flour and water and traditionally cooked in the ashes of a campfire. The word comes from Britain, the British damper meaning ‘a snack that dampens the appetite’. Because it was the most common form of bread for bush workers in the nineteenth century, to earn your damper means to be worth your pay. First recorded 1825.”
There are other opinions on how it got its name and such but the main thing is it’s a bread you cook when you go camping. It’s Australian and I cooked it last weekend.
So you went camping then?
You better believe it ! we borrowed a friends 4WD, we borrowed a tent, we borrowed an ice box, we borrowed camp ovens packed it all in the our trailer with all our other stuff and headed west into mountains about an hour and a half. This is the first time in about 30 years I’ve been camping so there was some hesitation with the overall excitement. Once we arrived at our campsite next to the softly running creek at the foot of the mountains, there was a sense of calm and excitement. What a great weekend! We played, we laughed, we drank, we ate. It was so good we’re gunna do it again!
Ok, you had a great weekend where does the Damper come into the story?
Well, being Australian, camping in the bush I had to try my hand at damper. Now plenty of Aussies have horror stories when it comes to cooking damper and I’m guessing that the old bushies had their share of failures as well. Only difference is they still had to eat their mistakes or go hungry! The way I made mine was in a camp oven but the real way is in the ash of the fire. Also I used the beer recipe rather than flour, water and salt. What’s the beer recipe you ask? 4 cups of self-raising flour to 1 stubbie of beer, bring it together to form a dough and chuck it in the pre heated camp oven over the coals for about half an hour and wha-la your sitting down to a bit of Aussie bush tucker in no time!.
Hang on you said there were horror stories it can’t be that easy.
Your right it’s not that easy. There are lots of variables when trying to cook / bake on a camp fire. Firstly do you have a good coal base?, how hot is the camp oven? How do I know it’s done? Well the advice passed on to me from a family that came out as convicts was (so he’s gotta have some idea!). Preheat the camp oven till a piece of newspaper turns brown when you drop it in, if it turns black or burns it’s too hot. When you have the oven to temp drop in the dough in and put the lid on. Make sure that your coal base is on the edge of the fire and not in it.
Now if you want a brown top to your damper shovel some coals on the lid; if you don’t then don’t, you will end up with a nice golden top like mine was. How do you know its done? After about half an hour crack open the lid and have a look the outside should be well crusted and if you knock on it it should have a hollow sound that’s when it’s done. Once it’s done get it out of the oven scrape off any burnt bits and cut it open.
The traditional toppings are meat or golden syrup but in these modern times of convenience and choice you could put anything on it. I used butter and Honey.
I will put a small side note in here that as good as it was, it wasn’t perfect. I’m not a big fan of self-raising flour when I cook because it can leave that soda tang in your mouth, I’m guessing that it means it’s not cooked out properly and another 5 or 10 minutes wouldn’t have hurt it I don’t think. Maybe someone out there might have an answer for me, I’d love to know cause there is a biscuit recipe I have that has the same aftertaste.
Well that’s about all for my damper adventure, hope you enjoyed the ride and have been inspired to try it on your next camping trip. A big thanks to my 8 year old son for the photos too, he really seemed to capture the essence of the weekend. Feel free to leave a comment on what you think or if you have a favourite damper recipe.
Thanks for readin’