Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unconspicuous Consumption.

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
New South Wales, Australia 1854


Almost Vegetarian said...

Yours is one of those sites I trip across again and again, always greeting it as an old friend.

Always fascinating, often fun (sometimes revolting - how could anyone eat that?!), it is a delight.


The Old Foodie said...

Thanks Almost Vegetarian - I am glad you enjoy my blog - I try to keep the stories varied - different things appeal to different people. Please keep coming back, and leaving comments!

Anonymous said...

This made me smile, as I have such fond memories of damper. Perhaps it is because love is as good a seasoning as hunger. I have always been so in love with the romance of the bush that every time I've had a chance to have a bit of damper, especially if it's with billy tea by the side of a campfire in the outback, I've been overwhelmed by delight. I shall admit that the first time I had damper it was on a tour -- at Jondaryan woolshed in Queensland. But the second time I had it was at a bush camp in the Northern Territory. I've also sampled the damper prepared by an Aboriginal guide at Ross River Homestead. But my favorite dampers have always been those I had in wild places, feeling connected to history and the tales that still seem to whisper to me in the bush.

Barbara said...

Too funny Janet.

Shay said...

It is possible that Americans feel the same way about "riz" biscuits. I have yet to meet an American past second generation who is not nuts about baking powder biscuits although for most of us they come from a can or a freezer bag.

(until several years ago the most popular brand came in a container consisting of a metal disk on each end and a wrapper of heavy paper around the actual biscuits. To get the biscuits out, one pulled back one corner of the paper and hit the container sharply against the kitchen counter. The container would pop open with a loud crack. Nowadays they have modified the packaging and one only has to peel the paper away. These biscuits are still known, at least in my family, as "whomp" biscuits.)

Despite the fact that good baking powder biscuits are ridiculously easy to make, very few Americans have tasted the from-scratch kind.

I have been married for almost 25 years with rarely a ripple to disturb the pond of our marital harmony; and I attribute this to the fact that I make baking powder biscuits several times a week.

The US equivalent of damper would be johnnycake rather than biscuits, however, since biscuits call for shortening and baking powder while johnnycake is just cornmeal and water.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Shay - I find the hassle of supermarket shopping much greater than making things from scratch (I know the ingredients have to be bought, but if you keep the pantry well-stocked it is not a problem). Why is it that people have stopped making even the simple things?

Andrew said...

Damper sounds like what we used to call "Bannock" which was made when camping. It was just flour and water mixed into a dough, then wrapped around sticks and cooked over the glowing coals of the campfire. The result was something like a pretzel, at least to our canoe-trip appetites.

In response to Shay's biscuit remarks, baking powder biscuits are a great entrée into baking for young children. We found our (then) 4-yr old daughter's touch was light enough to allow them to rise dramatically. Proving that biscuits are easy to make, but finicky to make expertly.