A Different Take On Damper

I’ve just returned from a visit to my family in Australia. Early settlers there may have made this simple campfire bread. “Damper” as it is called, was made by the Outback stockmen or drovers who mustered their cattle to travel hundreds of miles to market.

Traditionally, the bread is made with water, salt, and flour and baked in a covered cast-iron pan over hot coals. The top of this pan is covered with hot ashes to ensure even baking. The result is a chewy, rather bland bread. It fills an empty stomach, but I decided to experiment.

Using only the staples I had in my pantry, together with herbs and a lemon from the garden, I made two loaves with different flavors. What differentiates damper from other bread is that it has no yeast. The drovers on the move had no time to allow the dough to rise, let alone time to capture the yeast spores in the air to make a starter. But in the home kitchen, there are several ways to make this bread rise without yeast. One is to use baking powder, and the other is to use the action of acid on baking soda to get

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In Praise of Wax Paper

On my bookshelf is a 50-year-old cookbook. Its pages are falling out of its ring-bound cover, and some of the pages are stained and ripped as if a toddler had tried to join in the cooking. Which probably did happen.

This book is The Maine Cookbook and is probably one of those old community cookbooks sold as fundraisers for the local church. Even the cover is ripped so I am not completely sure of the title.

The recipes are simple, using inexpensive, local ingredients. One of those ingredients is lard, which for many years was regarded as bad for you, and now is back with a vengeance as the latest thing in gourmet cooking. Another thing I noted as I used this book recently is that it calls for wax paper to cover leftovers and items that need chilling.

When was the last time I used wax paper? I can remember my mother wrapping our school lunches in it but in my adult life, I’ve been addicted to foil and plastic wrap. Which is not good for the planet.

So I bought some wax paper. I ran my fingers along the surface and found it surprisingly sensuous and comforting, more

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Irish Wordsmiths

The population of Ireland is tiny relative to other countries. In 2022, it numbered just over five million people.*

Yet its artistic influence is huge in the English-speaking world. Perhaps this is partly because of its diaspora. Since the devastating great famine of the 1840s, millions upon millions of Irish people immigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia, and England. All these people, including my own ancestors, brought with them vivid cultural memories and traditions.

Thomas Cahill, in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, credits the monks of Ireland with saving what was left of ancient scholarship and early Christianity during the Dark Ages by copying books into illuminated manuscripts. This veneration for literacy, a literacy burnished by colorful language and images as the monks applied their curlicues and drawings of angels and devils to their parchment, has inspired countless Irish writers.

My favorites, apart from the greats like Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, are contemporary novelists John Banville, Edna O’Brien, and Colm Toibin, and nonfiction writers Fintan 0’Toole and Diana Beresford Kroeger.

0’Toole’s most recent book is We Don’t Know Ourselves. (2022). This scathing “personal history” of Ireland during 0’Toole’s lifetime ( he was born in 1958) covers

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