29 November 2012

Camp Oven Bread

No one should ever go through life without having experienced bread made in a camp-oven – or better still having made camp-oven bread.  Here is what you do.

In an old blackened billy  put a couple of cups of  warm water (blood temperature), a couple of spoons of sugar, a little salt and some milk powder and a teaspoon or two of yeast.  Give it a slight stir and cover it with the lid in a warm place out of the wind.   In a large flat camp-oven place a pound or two of baking quality flour and allow to warm with the yeast.  When the yeast has well and truly started to work, mix it in with the flour and a little oil to make a firm, dough kneading it with the heel of your hand.  Place aside in the warm place and make a cuppa.

Catherine and Camp Oven Bread
After you have made the cuppa-tea, check that the dough has risen to about twice its volume.  Knock the last of your tea down and do the same with your dough.  While the dough is rising for the second time scratch out a shallow hole in the ground and light a good fire in the hole.  Don’t use big logs for this, only small to large sticks and plenty of them.  By the time the fire has died down but while the embers are still hot the dough should have risen.  Scratch the embers out to the edge of your hole and test the heat by holding an open hand over the area.  If your hand can’t be kept held at knee height above the embers they are too hot – wait a while.   Check that the dough has risen (you can make do with only one rise if you are hungry) and when all is well put the camp-oven into the hot hole.  With a shovel or spade or a tin plate cover the lid well with the embers from the side of the hole.  After about 25-40 minutes, depending on the size of the loaf, the heat of the fire, the smell emanating from the ground and your experience and judgement, you should push aside the expectant nose-twitching and slavering crowd and remove the oven from the ashes.

It might be expected that a large camp-oven would feed an average family for about two days.  I’ve never known a loaf to last more than about half an hour or take less than half a pound of butter.  Then they will all stand about asking when the next loaf will be due.  Just make sure you get your own share.

Bushman’s Bread

Work your dough
water, good flour, yeast
(the rest my secret)
rising, knocking it down
while the fire dies
scratch out embers, embed,
cover the camp oven lid
hunger grows from the ashes
fight back the slavering crowd
knock the loaf out
slice it thickly
watch the butter melt.


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