HI all, southeast Queensland and northern NSW have endured a terrible fire season and my heart goes out to those who have felt the harshness of Mother Nature.
Some have lost property and livelihoods, but one thing is for sure, the Australian landscape will return with fresh regrowth and the burnt scars will fade into the greenery. It will once again provide us with the beautiful campsites and outdoor activities we have grown accustomed to in this region.
It’s important to return and use these same areas to keep up the economies of many of the small towns that rely on tourism dollars.
On a personal note, I’m one who loves an open fire while camping and the thought of a camp oven damper cooked on the coals just takes the outdoor experience to another level. Unfortunately, when enduring the recent dry conditions combined with strong wind, fire bans have been required for the safety of campers and of course local properties.
I understand the disappointment this creates but please take a moment to realise the potential of danger. I hear a lot of comments from campers saying “this is a bit over the top” or “what, is it a nanny state?” but when authorities take precautions, it is for a reason. At these extreme times you’ll probably find the simple act of slashing paddocks or using any equipment such as brushcutters has also been restricted.
One steel blade engaging with a rock can create a spark to start a devastating bushfire. It really is that easy. I travel about 100km a day on country roads and still see roadside fires started from discarded cigarette butts out of moving vehicles. All I can say is please be careful and understand the possible devastation that can be caused from this action.
When the rain comes and the fire bans have been lifted, authorities and campgrounds are usually happy for you to enjoy that open fire. With that said, I’m going to keep the camping dream alive and look at one of my favourite camping experiences of making a camp oven damper and my steps for success. First thing to know is how your camp oven works.
The most simple and basic rule is your camp oven will cook from the top down, so remember this and with the following steps you should produce a consistent and delicious damper. Damper is an iconic dish prepared by our early swagmen, drovers and bushmen and was an important resource in their everyday dietary needs.
We’ve been talking of the dangers of fires, so let’s look at the positives, because good coals are essential in achieving success. Build your fire and let it burn to produce those coals needed to supply your heat source. I always clear a small area beside the main fire to assist in my cooking. My method is to move some of the coals from the fire onto that cleared area I have created and place the camp oven on top of the coals.
At this stage the oven is empty and I’ll take the time to mix up my mixture and let it sit while the oven is heating. Flour, water, a touch of salt and the secret ingredient: icing sugar. The icing sugar just gives the damper a beautiful sweet taste, especially when accompanied by a spread of butter and your choice of either syrup or honey.
Going back to the oven heating on the coals, sprinkle a good coating of flour on the bottom and let that brown. This is a critical part of your success.
If that flour burns, so will your damper, as the flour is your indicator of the heat present in the oven. When the coating of flour turns golden brown, take the oven off the coals and place it on the dirt, then throw in your dough mixture, close the lid and cover your oven with a good layer of hot amber coals, so it begins to cook from the top down.
Remember the colour of the flour on the bottom of your oven? That colour will indicate the bottom colour of your damper. Golden brown flour means a golden brown base. Burnt flour simply means a thick burnt base. Believe me, this simple rule will have you producing consistent, beautifully textured damper.
I like to leave the oven cooking for about 35 minutes before lifting the lid to check. Ten times out of 10 I’m greeted by the most lightly goldened piece of heaven, with an aroma to draw in any nearby campers. You may stick a knife in to see if it’s cooked right through. You might decide to give it another five minutes, but either way, this fresh damper eaten around the campfire sure takes some beating.
Cleaning up afterwards has a basic set of rules. I’ll wipe out the inside of the oven while hot with a paper towel and coat it with a thin layer of vegetable oil before storing. Now I’ve discussed the cooking method, let’s back track and have a closer look at preparing that dough.
I’m going to stick with the basic recipe used by our early Australians, except for the icing sugar additive, but you could go total Flash Harry adding onion, bacon, garlic and mix in butter or milk instead of water – the possibilities are endless. My damper mixture doesn’t require too much attention to detail, but traditionally a few simple rules need to be followed.
My number-one rule is throw it together and do not knead the dough. Just as a guideline, use two and half cups of self-raising flour and a good pinch of salt. Add a heaped teaspoon of icing sugar and then just keep adding water and stirring with a clean piece of wood until the mix holds together without sticking to the sides of your bowl.
Wham, bam, done.
I’ve attached a picture of Quick-Lock Bag Sealers distributed by Anrise Imports in Caloundra. They are perfect for camping and keep your food fresh, dry and airtight, and you’ll probably come across them at many of the camping shows in southeast Queensland.
Try this traditional damper recipe and see if you have the success I do and enjoy just how easy it really is. I’ll be preparing quite a few of these next year while Tonia and I take off on a 12-month adventure surfing, fishing and hunting all over Australia. Stay tuned to find out what we share on our journey.
I hope you made use of the school holidays in September/October and had a ball. I know of a few PBs taken by holiday-makers including Corina Nucifora with her biggest catfish from Yabba Creek and my own grandson Jack who landed his trophy whiting while camping on Stradbroke Island.
Enjoy our great outdoors and try that damper.