Sunday, March 6, 2016

Salt Rising Bread

Here's a little post for my mom, Paula, who you met in the comments last week. I mentioned that she made a "mean" salt rising bread and a couple of people asked what salt rising bread was. Actually, I don't think anyone eats salt rising bread because it makes such good toast. I don't recall anyone ever eating a slice plain, always toasted and covered in butter.

Salt rising bread is made according to an old recipe that seems to have originated in the Appalachian mountains.

[By Wonderland Kitchen - Salt-Rising Bread, CC BY-SA 2.0,]

The Wikipedia article states:

Salt-rising (or salt-risen) bread is a dense white bread that was widely made by early settlers in the Appalachian Mountains in a process that involves no yeast. Instead, the leavening agents are wild organisms ubiquitous in nature. Salt in the name is a misnomer, since the salt levels are relatively low, around 20 mg per slice. It is thought that the salt used in the starter is used to suppress yeast growth and provide an environment more conducive for the microbes to grow, enhancing the distinct flavors which predominate over the more typical yeast flavors. Another assumption regarding the name is that chunks of rock salt were heated and used to provide a warm, stable temperature in which to incubate a "starter" overnight. Salt-rising bread is made from wheat flour, with a starter consisting of a liquid (water or milk), either corn, potatoes, or wheat, and some other minor ingredients. The starter distinguishes itself from a sourdough starter by working best with an incubation period of 6–16 hours at temperatures ranging from 38–45 °C (100–113 °F); a sourdough starter will usually work best at or below room temperature. The resulting bread is of a dense crumb and favorable cheese-like flavor.

Mom says that the recipe she used for years was similar to one found on, but, she says, it's a very temperamental recipe. The ingredients in the Cookpad recipe are:
  • 3 large baking potatoes
  • 3 tbsp NOT DEgerminated yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cup boiling water
  • 2 cup warm milk
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil OR melted shortening
  • 5 lb bag of bread flour
Please click the link above to for detailed cooking instructions. I just wanted to show the ingredients. Notice the potatoes and corn, but very little "salt."  I think the salt does not contribute much to the rising of the bread, although it no doubt stabilizes the starter mixture against pathogens similar to how we make beet kvass and sauerkraut.

The recipe Mom likes now is one she found in the March/April 2015 issue of Backwoods Homes magazine. This recipe uses two starters, combined.

Starter 1:
1/2 cup whole milk
3tsp stone-ground organic cornmeal
1tsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking soda

Starter 2:
8oz hot water (110-120F)
1/2tsp table salt
1/8tsp baking soda
1/2tsp sugar
7oz unbleached flour
All of Starter 1

Once these starters are "working" you add them to:
2oz soft unsalted butter
1/2tsp salt
10oz unbleached flour

The bread is baked 350 for 35-40 minutes.

If you are familiar with baking bread, this will all seem quite normal, just proceed like you do with making bread. If you are unfamiliar, please get the article...not found online. You'll have to click the link above and order a copy of the magazine. If you really want to get into this, there's a book, Salt Rising Bread, available on Amazon.

While you are waiting for that bread to rise and bake, read this great article:

The Disquieting Delights Of Salt-Rising Bread:  How Clostridium, a nasty pathogen, makes an infectiously delicious confection 

I've recently come across a fringe fermentation method that, unlike the breads and brews and yogurts and pickles and misos we know and love, isn't run by the usual benign microbes. The engine behind this fermentation method is Clostridium perfringens, a close relative of bacteria that cause botulism, tetanus, and food poisoning. It can eat flesh. It gives gas gangrene its name by causing putrefying flesh wounds that bubble and foam with flammable hydrogen. And it can make something surprisingly delicate and tasty.
As befits a nasty pathogen, Clostridium perfringens grows aggressively. Its cells can divide every ten minutes, a handful turning into trillions of hydrogen makers overnight. That hydrogen gas can leaven dough just as yeast-generated carbon dioxide does. The result is something known as "salt-rising bread." A century ago, a scientist went so far as to bake bread leavened with Clostridium perfringens drawn from an infected wound, in what the West Virginia Medical Journal called "perhaps the most macabre experiment in culinary history."
Whatever recipe you use, you will be guaranteed a great loaf of bread that makes a very tasty toast.

Maybe Mom will be so kind to grace us with her presence in the comments should anyone have any questions about Salt Rising Bread.



  1. Thanks Tim. Hope anyone who tries baking this bread has good luck. Post Pictures if you do. One thing for you to has a very strong pungent smell as it's baking and later when you make toast. There's a reason my grandsons call it "stinky-toast"
    Some recipes have a pkg of yeast in the list of ingredients. It will ensure your bread rises but you will lose the flavor & smell of SRB if you use yeast.
    Like Tim, I have never eaten a slice of the bread. Always toast it but it's hard to stop at one or two slices.
    Good Luck. Feel free to ask questions as you go along.

    1. I'm so glad you mentioned the stinky smell. My dad loved this bread. Everyone else hated it because of the smell. We would never even try it! Our loss, it sounds like!

  2. Very interesting. Seems like a lost art.

  3. I found the Backwoods Home magazine at the main branch of our library. If they don't have it and they are part of the state system, they should be able to get it for you. (can you tell I'm a librarian!)

    1. There you go mom! Tim never stops researching and learning. Now we know for sure it's genetic. :) Nice to have you around and I hope you stay. Tim's blog is a wonderful, friendly place to hang out.

      And what's this about not cooking onions? I've given him schtick for not eating enough onions. He says 'mom never cooked much onion'. Surely this is untrue. Maybe he just didn't notice? ;)

    2. Maybe he's just forgotten or didn't think about it at the time. (Or I've forgotten.) Use a lot of them now. I wonder if he remembers the neighbors delicious French Fries. I could never duplicate them so when I ran into the dad in the grocery store I asked what kind of oil he used. No oil. Pure bacon grease. They had 5 or 6 boys and used a lot of bacon so he saved all the grease. Needless to say our French fries were never as good as his.

    3. Thanks Paula and Tim, interesting bread!

      I love Backwoods Home, I read online sometimes. For anyone interested in canning, growing food, or raising livestock, Jackie Clay is the woman to read.

    4. Paula, 'real bacon' grease is da best for mashed potatoes too. Back when I was a child labourer at the nursery school, the nuns kept a big can of bacon grease that I'd use in the mashed potatoes for the little kiddies. They had to keep me busy. It was actually great.

  4. Have never thought of using in in mashed potatoes. Usually have a small jar in the fridge that I use for home fries. I used to work for Head Start, supervising the cooks. Several summers we had migrant children. I tried but the only words I could remember were Mas papas? and Mas leche?

  5. I don't know. I've smelled C. perfringens on bad wounds... Hmmm. But it looks tasty in the toaster!

  6. Tim, that salt bread is what the Irish and Scots call "soda bread." It likely came to Appalachia via the many people of Irish and Scottish nationality or heritage who settled in that area. It uses baking soda instead of yeast as a leavening agent. Bannock bread is another name for it. Native Americans were given this bread by the US government and eventually embraced it. Nearly everything is older than people think. :) Traditional Irish/Scottish and Native American recipes were generally simpler--just flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. When eaten, the bread was often either dipped in tea/soup/stew or smeared with butter (if available), as the traditional bread is rather dry.

    1. Oh, and "toast" was unheard of in olde Ireland. :) Thus, when my mother made soda bread, we never used it for toast.

    2. Now that you're eating potatoes, oats and soda bread, and I think dairy, you're very nearly Irish. Just add pork, lamb, cabbage, tea and potcheen or stout porter (turnips optional) and you're there! ;)

    3. (If you aren't already eating those foods.) :)