One evening, while visiting sites around Darling Harbor, my husband and I stopped in at one of the many restaurants along the wharf to get a quick bite to eat. On the menu, was an item called damper that caught my attention. So I promptly ordered it and was pleased to see that it was served with native Australian spices.
An iconic traditional Australian dish, damper is a very simple unleavened bread baked in the hot coals of a campfire. It was a staple in the diet of early Australian settlers. Traditionally, the dough was prepared with just flour and water. This made it easy to make and carry, particularly for those in the bush who had to travel to remote areas for weeks or months at a time.
Nowadays, damper has become a popular dish for recreational campers and has become available in many bakeries and restaurants. There are many variations of damper, some authentically made with the basic ingredients of flour, water and salt, and others that use milk, butter and other ingredients to make it more flavorful.
There are several theories about the origin of the name. The most likely is that “damper” is an English (Lancashire) dialect word that means lean luncheon or a snack before dinner, so called from its damping, or allaying the appetite. In 1852 a writer referred to the quality of “Australian Bush Bread” and said it was “a damper, sure, to the stoutest appetite.”
When our damper arrived at our table, it was warm, soft and moist. Garnished with a fresh and aromatic sprig of rosemary, it was served with olive oil and a blend of spices the color of burnt sienna. Our waitress referred to the spices as bushman’s dust. I was intrigued. I eagerly tore off a piece of damper (bread), dipped it into the oil, then into the dust—a unique blend of Australian grown spices. I sat back, allowing the flavors to settle in my mouth. The peppery, crunchy blend of coarsely ground spices was an interesting accompaniment to the bread. I could detect dried tomatoes, a variety of peppers, but little more. I finally asked what was in it. This particular blend of bushman’s dust was made of a mixture of ground macadamia nuts, native peppers and tomatoes.
I’ve since learned that bushman’s dust, also known as bushman’s pepper, comes in a variety of blends. It’s commonly used to sprinkle over foods before cooking, barbecuing and roasting, and is even sprinkled on sandwiches at times.
Have you had or made bushman’s dust?
Here’s a recipe for damper that I found online. Australian Damper Recipe.