Victorian Campfire Damper Recipe – Historical Food Fortnightly

Victorian Damper Recipe - Historical Food Fortnightly

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 mentioning  Victorian damper 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. […]

Campfire cooking recipe, wood fire, victorian open fire cooking

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.

Victorian damper or bannock recipe

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 Recipe


  • flour
  • water
  • a pinch of salt
Victorian Campfire Damper Or Bannock Recipe - Historical Food Fortnightly
Victorian damper or ash cake


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.

Ash cake, campfire bread recipe, unleavened flat bread

Cover the bread with hot ashes.

While the damper is baking, fry the bacon and eggs, and boil the tea.

Black tea over open fire, victorian bannock, fried bacon, dutch oven, campfire
Victorian damper, bacon and black 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.


Bacon, egg sunny side up, bannock, fry bread, fat cake, campfire breakfast recipe
Bacon & egg, with bannock

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).

Cowboy breakfast, lumberjack breakfast, fried ham and eggs, campfire cooking recipeNow brush off the ash from the damper and enjoy! Damper baked in hot ashes tastes a bit like wood fired pizza.


More Bread Recipes Without Commercial Yeast



  • Meredith (1844), Notes and Sketches of New South Wales; During a Residence in That Colony From 1839 to 1844, Reprint, Nashville, General Books, 2009

7 thoughts on “Victorian Campfire Damper Recipe – Historical Food Fortnightly

  1. That’s so interesting, we call it asbrood (Ash bread) in South Africa and it always brings back memories of visiting my Ouma on the farm. Thanks for the memories Lina

  2. I have to say you are not doing a very good sales pitch with that quote..what was it? “the worst bread or pudding I have ever tasted”!!!
    Your final photo of the finished meal looks really tasty though.
    I’m not sure if we have a version of this in the UK, it’s new to me anyway.

      1. Mrs Meredith has obviously never tasted some of the awful white sliced packaged stuff they try to pass off as bread in the shops these days!
        Glad you liked it.

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