Monday, August 06, 2007

Rising to the Occasion

Last week during a grocery shopping excursion, G casually tossed a bag of "bread mix" into our trolley. My quizzical look should not have surprised him. G doesn't particularly like to cook, so why would he want to start making his own bread?

It turns out he was inspired by a story in the newsletter from the Tararua Tramping Club, about a couple who made fresh bread almost daily on their eight-week trek along Australia's Bibbulmun Track. With a bit of off-season practice, he figures we could make bread when we're out tramping next summer.
Making bread on camping trips is nothing new. As a Canadian, I grew up hearing about early traders making bannock over an open fire. I didn't give it much thought, as these were the same people who happily ate pemmican. But bannock is probably the easiest camping bread to make, since it is relatively flat and cooks in a frying pan. Most basic recipes include flour, baking powder, salt and water and/or milk.

Down in California, sourdough evolved as gold prospectors found a way to cook their bread without a fresh supply of yeast, using leftover dough to keep things moving along.Down Under, meanwhile, the locals were making their own campfire bread called damper. The simplest recipes call for just flour, water and salt. Obviously baking powder is a big help if you want the bread to rise, and self-raising flour is now used for most recipes. More elabourate versions use beer or milk, along with butter and sometimes sugar. Traditionally, damper is cooked directly in the ashes of a campfire. Ash is used to cover the top as well, so that it cooks more evenly. So yeah, the end result requires some dusting off.
Of all the recipes I've seen, though, the one this Bibbulmun-walking couple used on their trek definitely takes the longest! They would mix up their dough using pre-made bread mix (for breadmakers) and yeast in the evening, throw it into a stuff sack, and keep it in a sleeping back with them overnight! Then they would re-knead in the morning, put it back into the stuff sack, and carry it in a pot until lunchtime. They cooked it on a rack inside their pot over their stove, with the flame as low as possible. I guess they must have liked the results if they did this daily!

Fresh bread is definitely a nice treat when you're camping, especially if you're on a long trip. It breaks up the monotony of rice and noodles, and it can perk up an otherwise bleak day. It does seem like a lot of work though. I think personally I'd go with the self-raising option, but if G wants to haul around bread mix and yeast, well, I won't say no to eating the results!


Frank and Sue said...

Great post Michelle and a very enjoyable read. I loved the pics of the bread...yum!!! Would just be worried about the additional weight of the dry ingredients but would be fun on a short one to two dayer.
When we base camp we often make damper, with butter and jam....excellent

Scythian said...

Nothing like the smell of fresh bread! I bought a cezve turkish coffee 'pot' today which should be ideal on my msr pocket rocket. Fresh bread would go well with fresh coffee... *muses...*

dharma bum said...

Interesting post! It may be slightly bannock-like, but a Minnesota company called Cache Lake makes some delicious and super easy frying pan breads. They've become a staple on canoe trips for us.