• Lemon myrtle damper (Camellia Aebischer)Source: Camellia Aebischer
Damper is a quick and easy way to have fresh bread for breakfast without getting up at the crack of dawn.
Camellia Ling Aebischer

7 Jul 2021 - 11:51 AM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2021 - 10:16 PM

What we know as damper is different depending on who you ask. The word is said to have origins in Lancashire dialect meaning something to take the edge off an appetite.

It’s a simple soda bread that was made by stockmen in post-colonial Australia, by mixing flour and water with a leavening agent and cooking the dough in smouldering coals.

The bread reportedly rose to popularity because of William Bond who owned a bakery on Pitt Street, Sydney. According to historian James Bonwick, Bond called the bread damper due to the technique of dampening the coals on the fire before baking.

Turn back the clock even further and the technique of cooking flour and water over coals was practised by Aboriginal Australians using a variety of bush seeds, nuts and grains long before westerners arrived. Millstones for grinding seed flours are dated back some 50,000 years and while seed doughs could be eaten raw, they were often cooked among the coals for preservation, especially if the group was about to travel.

Damien's damper

An all-round show-stopper, this one. Impress your mates with your bread-making skills, with little skill at all! Try playing around with any bush spice until you find your favourite. This is best cooked in a fire but an oven will do just as well.

The dough was either baked into two smaller loaves, what we now call Johnny cakes, or one large one, now known as damper. The practise of picking, treating and grinding seed to make bread is laborious and the arrival of commercially milled wheat flour has mostly replaced it.

Damper is often made at home by many Australians using self-raising flour, water and salt, with some variations including oil, milk powder or flavourings. This recipe by Damien Coulthard an Adnyamathanha and Dieri man and co-founder of Warndu is flavoured with lemon myrtle and goes great with some butter, honey and a cup of coffee in the morning.

You can add ground wattleseed, strawberry gum, or any spice you like really, or just leave it plain and let the butter do the talking.

Macadamia oil is recommende but I used olive oil and butter or any neutral oil would work fine.

Lemon myrtle damper

Take 500 g self-raising flour and add 300 ml of water, 2 tbsp oil (I used olive but macadamia is suggested), a good pinch of salt and 2 tbsp of dried lemon myrtle, wattleseed, or other ground spice.

Mix to begin forming a dough and if it’s too dry add up to 50 ml more water.

Turn out onto a clean bench and knead together to form a smooth dough. Pat into a loaf shape and place on a tray. Bake at 220°C for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom.

Let cool for 15 minutes or so then slice and enjoy warm with butter and honey or golden syrup.

Edge or middle piece?

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @cammienoodle

A proud Koori father's journey to becoming a TikTok sensation
The resourceful family cooking of proud Koori Nathan Lyons has made him a TikTok star.
How to support Indigenous communities through NAIDOC Week and beyond
There are some simply amazing things happening in the Indigenous food sector, led by First Nations people. Come eat Australia, Australia!
Feels like home: A quandong pie symbolising kinship and connection to Country
Foraging for quandongs was one of the ways Damien Coulthard learnt about his Aboriginal heritage.
Bruce Pascoe: Fish cooked simply, honours its life and death
Indigenous Australian writer, the author of 'Dark Emu' and bush foods advocate, Bruce Pascoe, reminds us of the need to honour and respect the way we cook our produce.
Feels like home: Sharon Winsor's wattleseed bread and butter pudding
Sharon Winsor's version of a winter classic combines sweet childhood memories with Australia's ancient wattleseed.