Recently I have been browsing through the cookbooks I bought on long ago trips to Australia and New Zealand. We have traveled to Australia twice and New Zealand twice (our first trip combined both), and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves each time. I think the first recipe I tried from these cookbooks was for a bread called damper. Damper was a staple for drovers and others who spent a lot of time camping outdoors, as it only required a few ingredients and was baked in the "damped down" ashes of a campfire. I found my recipe in Doris Brett's Australian Bread Book (1984)*. Brett modified the campfire version into one that could be baked in an oven. Her recipe is similar to Irish Soda Bread, and produces a loaf that is richer and softer than the original damper eaten by drovers. The recipe is so easy that if you've never baked bread before, this one would be a good place to start!
1 1/2 tsp. salt (I used 3/4 tsp.)
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
3 C. flour
1/2 C. butter
1/2 C. milk
1/2 C. water
Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut or rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add enough of the milk and water to form a soft dough (I used all of both). Shape the dough into a large oval. With a sharp knife, slash the top with a cross or X pattern. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes, until it is golden brown, a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center, and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before slicing. Makes one loaf.
*Australian author Doris Brett is quite an interesting person. She is a clinical psychologist as well as an award-winning author and poet. She has written a book about therapeutic storytelling for children as well as both poetic and prose accounts of her experiences after being successfully treated for ovarian cancer. The latter led to a very public estrangement from her sister Lily Brett, who is a well-known novelist and poet, which you can read about here. Most recently, Doris Brett published a memoir about caring for her husband when he suffered a serious heart attack. After reading about this incredible woman's life, I was not sure she was the same Doris Brett who wrote my cookbook, but her likeness on the back cover as well as the dedication to her husband Martin confirmed that she is. I don't know how she ever found time to bake bread, let alone write a cookbook about the subject!