Damper is an unleavened flat bread made with flour and water, which is baked in the hot ashes of a wood fire. Australian damper is called bannock or ash cake in the USA. Damper is easy to make as part of a cowboy or lumberjack breakfast.
Bacon & eggs, Victorian damper with black tea, all cooked over an open fire, is my entry for challenge 8 – Literary Foods – of the Historical Food Fortnightly.
The following excerpt is from the book Notes and Sketches of New South Wales; During a Residence in That Colony From 1839 to 1844 by Mrs. Charles Meredith, originally published in 1844:
In ‘New South Wales one universal reply follows the query of “What can you give us to eat?” and this is, ” ‘Am an’ eggs, Sir;” “mutton-chops” forming the usual accompaniment, if required. So ham and eggs we had, and mutton-chops too; but from their being fried all together, in the same dark-complexioned fat, the taste of these viands was curiously similar, and both of impenetrable hardness. […]
Tea, with black sugar, but no milk, and bread without butter, completed the repast, with the addition of “damper” […] supposed by some persons to have been invented by the great circumnavigator, and the manufacture is this: – A stiff dough is made of flour, water, and salt, and kneaded into a large flat cake, two or three inches thick, and from twelve to eighteen broad. The wood-ashes are then partially raked from the hot hearth, and the cake being laid on it, is heaped over with the remaining hot ashes, and thus bakes.
When cut into it, it exceeds in closeness and hard heaviness the worst bread or pudding I ever tasted, and the outside looks dirty, if it is not so: still, I have heard many persons, conversant with every comfort and luxury, praise the “damper,” so I can only consider my dislike a matter of taste. In “the bush,” where brewer’s yeast cannot be procured, and people are too idle or ignorant to manufacture a substitute for it (which is easily done), this indurated dough is the only kind of bread used’. (Meredith, 1844, pp. 53-54)
Victorian Damper or Bannock Recipe
- a pinch of salt
Make a thick dough with flour, water and salt. Now form a large flat bread and put it into the hot ashes of a wood fire.
Cover the bread with hot ashes.
While the damper is baking, fry the bacon and eggs, and boil the tea.
Black ‘tea and coarse sugar are boiled together’ in a small iron pot. (Meredith, 1844, p. 125)
Making Black Tea on a Campfire
- 1 tsp black tea leaves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 cup water
To make black tea over an open fire, I added one teaspoonful of black tea leaves and one teaspoonful of sugar to each cup of boiling water, and let it boil for some minutes, because the Victorian reference mentions boiling the tea, not just steeping it.
Damper is ‘varied occasionally by a “fat cake” done in the fryingpan’ (Meredith, 1844, p. 125) I think ‘fat cake’ is similar to bannock or frybread. I made bannock with flour and water before, but this time I used a naturally leavened dough with wild yeast (honey water).
- Meredith (1844), Notes and Sketches of New South Wales; During a Residence in That Colony From 1839 to 1844, Reprint, Nashville, General Books, 2009