Vegan Fruit Damper

The recipe

Mix up lots of flour and water in a big bowl. Get the fire ready before that so that the coals are hot. Keep mixing the dough then add dried fruits – apricots, sultanas, apples, pears, whatever you've got, and some cinnamon. When the damper is ready when you've kneaded it for a long time then put it on the coals the same way you make damper, and cook it for about twenty minutes.

What to look for in a good damper: Hard crust that sounds hollow when you knock on it.

Serve with: Butter it and drink hot, strong, black tea. If you have access to a eucalyptus leaf then stick it in the hot water for flavour - leaves only, not the oil!

Notes for a modern kitchen

Our resident baker has formed a more detailed recipe for you to follow with handy gluten free substitutions.

Ingredients

3 cups self-raising all-purpose flour (450g) (for gluten free version; substitute 3 cups of GF flour blend, and 1 ½ teaspoons of GF baking powder)
¾ cup of water (185ml)
Pinch of salt
½ cup of dried fruit (any mixture; apricots, raisins, cranberries, pear, apple
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
½ teaspoon of nutmeg *optional
¼ teaspoon of cardamom *optional

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt.
Make a well in the center and pour in water.
Mix together with a knife in circular motions.
Once the mixture is combined, use your hands to bring it together.
Dust over spices, and add dried fruit.
Tip out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead with your hands, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water if needed.
Once the mixture is smooth, lightly dust all around.
Place in stoneware/ceramic/cast iron pot, and cook for 30-45mins, or until golden brown.
Let rest for 10-20mins, then either cut into eighths or slice like bread.

Making Damper:

In times of crisis, and change; we all need a little soothing nostalgia. And what is more nostalgic for an Australian, than making damper? This sweetly spiced version is a delight, warming and able to be made from simple store cupboard essentials. For added beauty and authenticity, some native flowers next to the baked loaf make you feel that things are alright with the world, even if just in your kitchen.

The significance

Damper was a staple of the early colonial period and the poorer classes of Australia from invasion in 1789. Made from nothing more than flour, water, salt and sometimes baking soda for leavening it was a flatbread that solved the issue of being unable to reliably keep yeast while living in the ‘bush’ or country. It is most often associated with ‘swagmen’ (itinerant workers), farmers, drovers (looked after cattle) or other stockmen. However, in reality most people would have survived on damper, some sort of cooked or dried meat, and strong black tea. The name originates from a Lancashire word indicating a thing to ‘dampen’ your hunger. An alternative meaning comes from the cooking process, where you use the hot coals of the fire to cook the bread.

There is more to the story, as this represents only white Australia’s telling of damper. White Australians making damper is first mentioned in colonial accounts in 1825, but there is evidence of the existence of large grindstones to make damper and bush bread for some 30,000+ years before this. By some estimates, 60% of the language groups representing Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders across Australia made some sort of bush bread as a supplement to hunting. The ingredients would depend on the region, but included making flour from: native millet, spinifex, wattle-seed, pigwig, prickly wattle, mulga, dead finish seed and bush bean. The breads were (and are) flavoured with Australian bush herbs such as lemon myrtle or with fruits such as the native plum.

This particular recipe comes from a collection of recipes from the Aboriginal people from the Kimberley area of North-Western Australia. The book is illustrated by the art of Jan Palethorpe, a sculptor and print artist who trained in Melbourne during the 80s. She spent three years in artist residencies remote communities in North-West Australia during the late 90s. Our book is signed by the editor, Marianne Yambo.