In all deserts (whether literal or figurative) different versions of the Hermit’s staple, bread, have developed. In Australia, that bread has been damper. As has been the case with all traditional breads – for example, in Egypt, Ethiopia, Syria – modern, more luxurious versions have appeared in restaurants and speciality food shops. However, the traditional damper retains the essential qualities of food for the Hermit: simplicity, minimal ingredients, ease of preparation, durability.
“Damper is a traditional Australian soda bread prepared by swagmen, drovers, stockmen and other travelers. It consists of a wheat flour based bread, traditionally baked in the coals of a campfire. Damper is an iconic Australian dish. It is also made in camping situations in New Zealand, and has been for many decades.
Damper was originally developed by stockmen who travelled in remote areas for weeks or months at a time, with only basic rations of flour, sugar and tea, supplemented by whatever meat was available. The basic ingredients of damper were flour, water, and sometimes milk. Baking soda could be used for leavening. The damper was normally cooked in the ashes of the camp fire. The ashes were flattened and the damper was placed in there for ten minutes to cook. Following this, the damper was covered with ashes and cooked for another 20 to 30 minutes until the damper sounded hollow when tapped. Alternatively, the damper was cooked in a greased camp oven. Damper was eaten with dried or cooked meat or golden syrup, also known as “cocky’s joy”.
Damper is also a popular dish with Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal women had traditionally made bush bread from seasonal grains and nuts, which they cooked in the ashes of fires.”
“In colonial Australia, stockmen developed the technique of making damper out of necessity. Often away from home for weeks, with just a camp fire to cook on and only sacks of flour as provisions, a basic staple bread evolved. It was originally made with flour and water and a good pinch of salt, kneaded, shaped into a round, and baked in the ashes of the campfire or open fireplace.”
A standard recipe for damper:
450g (3 cups) self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
80g butter, chilled, cubed
185ml (3/4 cup) water
Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water to the flour mixture and use a round-bladed knife in a cutting motion to mix until the mixture just comes together, adding 1-2 tbs extra water if the mixture is a little dry. Use your hands to bring the mixture together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 1-2 minutes or until smooth. Shape into an 18cm disc and place on tray. Use a sharp knife that has been dipped in flour to mark 8 wedges on top. Dust the damper with a little extra flour and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until the damper is cooked through and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Transfer to a wire rack for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.