Life Eat & Drink Sourdough is so March 2020 – this is the new fresh bread
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Sourdough is so March 2020 – this is the new fresh bread

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This year has spawned a number of isolation sensations, from sourdough starters to Netflix Party (why does Tiger King feel so long ago?) to the recent black-and-white photo challenge. 

The five minutes of fame are positively zipping by in 2020, and the humble damper is here to knock Queen Sourdough off her throne.

It turns out there are plenty of ways to add new twists to the traditional Aussie dish, as well as a dark history many Australians might not be aware of.

Author of cookbook In Praise of Veg and ABC’s culinary correspondent Alice Zaslavsky – also known as AliceInFrames on social media – said that damper comes with a whole lot of history.

“Indigenous food practices are a really interesting wormhole to dive into – there’s so much history we don’t know,” Ms Zaslavsky told The New Daily. 

“When white flour came to Australia, that was one way in which they would poison [Indigenous Australians]. They would put arsenic in the flour.

“So our notion of this ‘white flour damper’ is a little bit fraught.

“The way that it was made back in the day, the original damper was made using wattleseed that was roasted and ground and used like a flour.”

Nornie Bero, owner of Indigenous Melbourne cafe, Mabu Mabu, is leading the damper trend by hosting virtual workshops complete with a take-home kit of native herbs and spices.

“It’s about making it easy so that people can go, ‘Yeah, I can totally rock with some native ingredients’,” Ms Bero told SBS recently.

“Half the people we come across, especially at Mabu Mabu, have never tasted any native ingredients. That’s why I feel like we should be talking more about this.”

Ms Bero, who is part of the Meriam People of Mer Island in the Torres Strait, hosts workshops that teach people how to make wattleseed damper and pumpkin and pepperberry damper.

But those without access to native ingredients need not worry – the traditional bread can still be enjoyed without them.

“You can make damper out of the cheapest flour out there and it’ll still be delicious,” she said.

In addition to being a great way to connect with Australian culture and history, trying your hand at damper is also much easier than sourdough.

“From a cook’s perspective, the reason people might be interested in making damper is because the process is far less laboured than making sourdough,” Ms Zaslavsky said.

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We love damper cooked in the fire, the beautiful crunch in the crust and soft fluffy centre, best enjoyed hot and coated in butter. There are a few different variations Roxie will do depending on what we want to eat it with. Best thing is, we guarantee you will have these ingredients in your cupboard! 3 cups of self raising flour 330 ml of beer (You can substitute beer for sparkling wine if you want to enjoy this with jam and cream) Pinch of salt Optional extras mixed into the dough. Jalapeños, cheese, olives, herbs, sun-dried tomato etc . Mix all ingredients together, the trick is not to work it to much, just so the flour is wet and restrain yourself from mixing any more! Cook in a camp oven off the direct coals, but instead adding hot coals on top of the camp oven lid. Cook for 20 mins. #huntergathererchef #huntergatherer #campfirecooking #damper . . . . . . . #campfire #camping #nature #bushcraft #outdoors #adventure #fire #camp #hiking #outdoor #survival #travel #campinglife #photography #forest #trekking #camper #firepit #mountains #bushcraftskills #camplife #outdoorlife #wilderness #explore #getoutside #aussiedamper

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And for an extra hint of authenticity, Ms Zaslavsky recommends switching out a much-loved breakfast staple for a home-grown, traditional Aussie alternative.

“Try swapping out your spinach for warrigal greens for example, which can be blanched and wilted with some butter and eaten for breakfast with poached eggs, so you can have your own cafe-style breakfast at home – maybe with some damper.”