March 27 ...
Tuesday’s story of sixteenth century wedding breakfast splendour and Wednesday’s story of nineteenth century wilful extravagance were in such contrast to Monday’s story on the simplicity of scones (the awful simplicity, in the case of Bloater Scones) that I felt they needed an equally simple Wednesday buffer. For some reason understood only by the relevant brain cells, it was obvious that I had to write about Aussie Damper.
Australians feel very sentimental about damper. No-one actually eats it, but nevertheless it is held in great affection. It is a superb example of historic distance lending enchantment to the taste. Those sturdy bush folk who ate it because it was the only ‘bread’ possible in a blisteringly hot yeast-killing climate with no oven would, I am sure, have swapped the blackened tough mess for a slice of Wonder Bread quicker than you can say Where’s the Jolly Jumbuck. And while we are on the topic of sentiment, you know the old wonderful bush song about the dog that ‘sat on the tucker box, five miles from Gundagai’? Man’s faithful doggy friend guarding the food supplies? The dog they built a statue to? Well, I hate to destroy a lovely image, but I understand the original wording to the song was ‘the dog shat on the tucker-box’. Some best friend, that. But I digress.
Ellen Clacy joined her brother in the Victorian goldfields of 1852. Her description of the making of damper will serve as our recipe for the day:
‘A damper is the legitimate, and, in fact, only bread of the bush, and should be made solely of flour and water, well mixed and kneaded into a cake, as large as you like, but not more than two inches in thickness, and then placed among the hot ashes to bake. If well-made, it is very sweet and a good substitute for bread.’
A cake of flour and water, sans butter, sans eggs, sans milk, sans sultanas, sans everything. Fairly makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Hunger, as they say, is the best seasoning of all.
On one particular day, there were problems at damper-making hour:
‘The rain had, however, spoiled our ashes, the dough would neither rise nor brown, so in despair we mixed a fresh batch of flour and water, and having fried some rashers of fat bacon till they were nearly melted, we poured the batter into the pan and let it fry till done. This impromptu dish gave general satisfaction and was pronounced a cross between a pancake and a heavy suet pudding.’
I hope they did find gold.
Tomorrow’s Story …
Too much Bumboo.
Quotation for the Day …
Of doctors and medicines we have more than enough. What you may, for the love of God, send is some large quantity of beer.
Dispatch from the colony of