Billy Tea and Damper

Billy Tea and Damper
from Bill and Heather Gardam aboard "Shiriri"

Have you ever noticed how the simplest and most basic foods can be the most delicious? Depending on the circumstances, of course.

While crossing the tropical Pacific in our wooden schooner "Shiriri," our ice box long since sadly reduced to room temperature, our friend Jim on "Wile E Coyote" would sometimes row across an anchorage to join us for supper. He always brought the epitome of luxury to share with us. No, not wine. A bottle of cold water from his fridge, condensation dripping down its sides. Nothing has ever tasted so good.

During long passages, I always rolled out of my bunk at dawn to relieve my wife, Heather, on watch. But first, I’d brew up a pot of tea and carefully maneuver two cups into the cockpit, where we shared a companionable "cuppa" to begin the new day. The fresh morning air and the quiet conversation made a simple cup of tea very special indeed.

Recently, we rowed our 14-foot dory dinghy "Edith" down a section of the Murray River in central Australia: no flies, mosquitoes, snakes, or possibility of sunstroke as we meandered along in wintry July weather. Instead, we waited impatiently for our turn at the oars so we could warm up! At the end of each day, on one of the many convenient sandbars, we’d put up our tent and prop "Edith" on her side to provide a windbreak. Then we’d light a roaring fire of red gum branches and proceed with an old Australian tradition: Billy Tea and Damper (skillet bread). This authentic Aussie recipe for was given to us by our friend Sue aboard "Pelican III" in Australia.

Huddling close to the fire, we’d nurse our mugs of hot tea while the damper cooked in the frying pan. Then we’d smear it with butter and strawberry jam. Delicious! Those jolly swagmen had the right idea! Who’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Basic Damper

2 1/2 c. flour
5 tsps. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. soft margarine or butter
I 1/4 c. milk
Cooking oil

Place dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut margarine into mixture. Add milk and stir to make dough. Shape into as thin a round as possible, and place in oiled frying pan over campfire coals or on the stovetop. In ten minutes or so (when bottom turns brown, and mixture partly cooked) flip damper with an egg turner. Cook for another few minutes, until both sides are brown and crusty and it is cooked in the center. Alternative: Herbed Damper: Add 4 tsps. dried herbs, such as parsley, sage, thyme, or rosemary, to the flour.