Damper bread (sometimes known as bush bread) is a traditional Australian soda bread which is cooked over a fire or in the coals. It’s become quite well known in the UK over the last few years as a staple campfire food of forest school. You’ll often see pictures of it being cooked over a fire while wrapped around sticks.
It’s a really easy food to create with simple ingredients, fun to cook over a campfire and being a bread you can add various things to it to enhance the flavour, either as ingredients or toppings.
Damper bread’s simple ingredients hark back to its origins as a food of cattlemen travelling in remote regions of the Australian bush. They used their simple rations in whatever way they could to try and create food. Therefore the main ingredients of this type of bread are flour (which was part of their rations) water and sometimes milk (from the cattle). Modern recipes (see below) sometimes contain additions or use self-raising flour to give the bread a bit of a rise.
There are many similar campfire bread recipes that have originated in different parts of the world and you’ll often hear these mentioned in the context of camping, bushcraft and forest school. The two most well known of these are Danish stick bread (Snobrød) and Bannock Bread which originated in Scotland and was brought to North America by settlers.
Is Damper Bread the same as Danish Stick Bread and Bannock Bread?
All three certainly look very similar and Danish stick bread is also a favourite of Scandinavian forest schools, but the main difference between Damper and Snobrød is that the Danish version contains yeast and Damper Bread does not. On the other hand Bannock Bread and Damper Bread are near identical although various recipes exist for both which all vary slightly, but neither contains yeast.
How do you cook it?
There are a few different ways that damper bread can be cooked in the outdoors.
Dutch oven : Shape the dough into small rolls and place inside a pre-heated dutch oven which is on a charcoal fire and then cover with hot ashes. Cook for 20-30 minutes
Wrapped around sticks : Like its Danish equivalent, this bread can be wrapped around sticks to be cooked and older children can toast it over the fire. This method doesn’t usually result in the best culinary results, but as we all know with toasting marshmallows that’s not really the point is it! Burnt on the outside and uncooked in the middle can still be a lot of fun.
In foil parcels : Wrap small dough rolls in tin foil and cook directly on hot coals. Make sure you have tongs on hand to remove the hot packages from the fire.
On a long-handled outdoor frying pan : Rolled out like flatbread and cooked directly on the frying pan which is placed on the coals (see image below)
Damper Bread Recipe
The recipe I have chosen is measured using cups as I find this the easiest method of cooking when away from home or with children. The key ingredients for damper bread are self-raising flour and milk/water everything else tends to vary from recipe to recipe.
2 cups of self-raising flour
3/4 cup of milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of soft butter
Combine all ingredients in a bowl rubbing together like breadcrumbs initially and then bringing together as a big lump of dough. Allow to rest for a little time (minimum thirty minutes or as long as you’ve got) before shaping for cooking
Tips and enhancements
- Try adding shredded wild garlic leaves, olives, grated cheese or rosemary
- Wrap the bread around a hot dog on the stick
- Melt butter over the fire and add crushed garlic to dip the toasted bread in
- Fill the middle of your stick toasted bread with jam or chocolate spread
- Wrap sticks in foil before putting bread on them if the sticks are wet or muddy
- For a vegan alternative switch milk for oat milk and butter for margarine
Pumpkin soup is a lovely warming autumn dish that has a natural sweetness that appeals to children. It’s also easy to make and if you pick your pumpkin well (see below) you get a children’s craft and cookery project all in one! The perfect activity to fill a few hoursg in half-term.
It’s of course too late now to grow pumpkins this year, BUT if you have the space, I thoroughly recommend growing them next year. The seeds are big enough for small fingers to easily plant in pots and the enormous plants that grow from them are very rewarding for children to see. We grew them last year and although we only got one pumpkin to maturity it was an exciting process, for all of us!
About buying pumpkins at Halloween
Pumpkins sold in shops around Halloween are generally grown for carving, that’s to say they are big and cheap with little flavour. You can get round this problem in a number of ways. Most supermarkets now sell two distinct types, there are carving pumpkins (the ones in the big pile as you go in the door) and cooking or culinary pumpkins (hidden away with the rest of the vegetables) A small culinary pumpkin is generally about the same price as a large carving pumpkin, but with much more flavour and of course there is nothing to stop you carving one that’s been grown for cooking… it’s just a bit silly to buy the more expensive one if you don’t intend to use the flesh!
Also if you aren’t actually fussed about buying a pumpkin per se, but just want the soup, the other option is not to use pumpkin at all! Butternut squash makes an excellent pumpkin substitute and is much easier to extract the flesh from (you can use a vegetable peel to remove the skin and then most of what remains goes in the pot.) I promise you no one will ever be able to tell the difference when they taste the finished result.
Finally, if you’ve already bought a pumpkin and you suspect it might be a carving one, don’t scrimp on cheap stock. It makes a big difference to the flavour if you invest in decent stock pots or cubes. The recipe below also uses a little sweet potato which helps with the flavour, if you have none carrot is good too.
A word about soup makers…
I held out from buying a soup maker for ages. Surely it does the same job as a pot on the hob? But it doesn’t… Our soup consumption has trebled since I bought our soup maker and it’s fantastic to be able to leave it unattended while you get on with other things, or go out for a walk.
If you have a gas hob they are also a little less hazardous for children to use. My eight-year-old can make soup unsupervised from scratch now, but I’m not so sure I’d be keen to leave him with a naked flame! If you’re interested, this is the model I bought, whatever you buy ensure you get one with a saute function.
Recipe for easy pumpkin soup
- 1 small culinary pumpkin (mine weighed 1.4kg whole and I got 500g of flesh from it)
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 300g of sweet potato
- 750ml of vegetable stock made with good quality stock cubes/pots (I like Knorr)
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Chorizo (optional)
- Cream (to garnish)
Saute the onions in a pan with the olive oil (or you can do this in your soup maker) for 5 minutes.
Pumpkin flesh is very soft and after cutting the top off with a sharp knife, the removal of the flesh can be done by a child with an ordinary spoon. Once it’s removed add it with the stock to your pan or soup maker. Cook for 20 minutes and blend.
Whilst the soup is cooking, dry fry some chunks of the chorizo in a frying pan and use these to garnish the soup with a drizzle of cream.
Mini apple and blackberry crumbles are one of the easiest and best things to make with kids at this time of year. Picking the blackberries is a great activity on its own, but the crumble making is also perfect for kids, as it’s a messy hands-on exercise which is hard to get wrong.
Every year I am lucky enough to be gifted a large sack of apples from a friend who has several trees in his garden, but you’ll also find them given away outside people’s houses, or occasionally there are apple trees on common land like roadsides. Either way, I find if you ask around you’ll usually find some for free.
Why mini crumbles?
I like to make mini crumbles for several reasons. Firstly kids love kid size things, if children only manage to pick a small amount of blackberries these can go directly into their crumble and also it’s easier to grab the right number of portions to defrost from the freezer later on. I use a variety of dishes, but by far the best are the stacking enamel dishes I have. They take up hardly any room when empty and are freezer and oven safe.
Mini apple and blackberry crumbles recipe
- 8-12 cooking apples (enough to fill your saucepan when cut up!)
- A punnet of blackberries (just as many as you can pick!)
- 6oz plain flour
- 6oz porridge oats
- 6oz butter chopped into chunks
- 4.5oz demerara sugar
Peel and chop the apples and add them to a saucepan. Add a tablespoon of water, put on a low heat, cover with a lid and stir occasionally until the apples become fluffy and turn into a puree. Spoon the puree into your dishes and top with blackberries which you have washed in a sieve.
To make the topping, add all the ingredients into a bowl and mix with your hands rubbing the butter into the dry mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the topping to the dishes.
Bake in the oven at 200c for 15-20 minutes (depending on dish size) or freeze until required
Without wanting to stir up a controversial debate about custard. I thought it might be worth sharing our personal family recipe here. We make ours with birds eye custard powder, but we have a secret ingredient…
- 2 tbsps Birds Eye Custard Powder
- 1 tbsp Sugar
- about 3/4 a pint of milk
- 1 tin of Evaporated Milk (not the same as condensed milk!)
To make…. In a jug, add sugar and custard powder. Add a small tin (190g) of evaporated milk and mix together. Make up to a pint with regular milk and microwave for six minutes stirring halfway
This is the way I have always had my custard and as we were recently complimented on it by some friends who were visiting, I thought I’d share it here. You may well have your own preferred method/brand/recipe and if so I don’t want to mess with that!
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