Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Lost Art of Salt-rising Bread.

I was going to follow-on from yesterday’s title of ‘Eggless Omelets’ with ‘Yeastless Bread’ today,  but as you will see, that would not be accurate.

I was intrigued by a reference to ‘salt-rising bread’ in The Manual of Home-making, (1919) by a trio of  American experts, Martha van Rensselear, Flora Rose, and Helen Canon. This is what they have to say on the topic.
SALT-RISING BREAD.
An old fashioned bread, the making of which is almost a lost art today, is called salt-rising bread. No yeast is used. Gas from a certain type of bacteria found in cornmeal is the leavening agent. Dough made from freshly ground cornmeal rises much more rapidly than that from old cornmeal; in fact, failure generally results unless fresh cornmeal is used.
The bread is handled in the same way as yeast-raised bread, except that the entire process can be carried on at a somewhat higher temperature than is possible with yeast bread.
The odor of salt-rising bread during fermentation and proofing is characteristic. No other dough is like it.
Salt-rising bread is finer in texture than yeast bread, and some persons believe it is more easily digested.
Recipe for salt-rising bread (3 loaves)
(1)   In the evening make a mush of 2 tablespoons of cornmeal and about ½ cup of scalded milk. Keep it in a warm place overnight.
(2)   In the morning mix together 1 cup lukewarm water, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon soda, 1 ½ cups flour, cornmeal mush.
(3)   Cover the mixture, and place the dish in warm water until the mixture is light.
(4)   To 2 cups lukewarmwater add 2 teaspoons of salt and 3 cups of flour. Add to this the cornmeal leavening mixture. Allow the mixture to rise until it is light. Then add sufficient flour to make a dough. Knead it until it is smooth, make it into loaves, place in tins, and allow it to rise until it is double in bulk. Bake it according to the general directions.

There are variations on this theme in other books; some use all wheat flour, some use boiling water, some have other minor variations, but they all include the first step of making a batter or wet dough and leaving it to its own devices overnight. No baker’s yeast is added to the dough, that is true enough, but the bread is not yeastless, it is leavened by the action of natural yeasts and bacteria which have been happily cultivated in the warmth of the kitchen.

I have two questions of you. Is the making of this bread really a lost art? And why is it called salt-raised?

Quotation for the Day.

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes salt.
George Herbert

24 comments:

Bob del Grosso said...

Janet,
I suppose it is called "salt rising" because the primary leaven, Sodium bicarbonate, is a salt. (I can hear you smacking your forehead from 10k miles away :-)

The Old Foodie said...

Smack! Smack! Smack!

The Old Foodie said...

My excuse for the day is that the gravitational pull from the approaching asteroid is scrambling my brain.

The Old Foodie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was just looking at the recipe for salt-risen bread in Beard on Bread today and thinking of trying it. Strange, eh?

Beard does warn that the recipe fails as often as it succeeds owing to conditions, but I'm still curious to try it.

Les said...

Sodium bicarb would provide some leavening but I used to add salt to bacterial cultures in order to selectively cultivate enteric bacteria over gram positive bacteria usually found on the skin. The salt and sodium in the bicarbonate might be used to inhibit less flavorful strains of bacteria present in the cornmeal mush starter.

Anonymous said...

The story I have been told about salt rising bread is that the starter--the cornmeal and hot milk mixture in a container, was buried in warm rock salt (halite).


It is a fairly lost bread, because it is not predictable. I love it, because of its cheesy flavour, but it does not rise predictably. Sometimes I have great success, and sometimes, I do not. Same kitchen, same utensils, same brands of ingredients, same starting with very clean utensils........



Lawrence in Ohio.

Pipedreams said...

A question about the "scalded milk". I checked in my beloved dictionary and it said that it's "heated without allowing it to reach boiling point". Great. So, my question is, will it work with UHT milk or should I rather use 'fresh' milk? Oh, how I love a challenge...

Rising Creek Bakers said...

Interesting to see your article about Salt Rising Bread. I'm glad you wrote about it. I have been involved in preserving this beloved bread for several years. You may enjoy visiting my website that is all about Salt Rising Bread
http://home.comcast.net/~petsonk/

You might also like to read an article published last week in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about Rising Creek Bakery, where my friend and I bake Salt Rising Bread and ship it all over the country.
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11307/1186912-34.stm
Susan Brown

Rachaol said...

Here is an article posted in today's Lexington Herald-Leader about the state of salt-rising bread in Central Kentucky (USA).
http://www.kentucky.com/2011/11/10/1952795/salt-rising-bread-is-still-baked.html
It has a recipe that uses sliced potato in addition to the cornmeal. It sounds like a wild yeast trap to me!
I have never tackled this style of bread. My assumption is that the bicarb and the acidity of the starter work with the wild yeast.

Anonymous said...

Foodie. Salt rising bread was still sold in my town as late as the early sixties in Mom Pop bakeries. This is an absolutley delicious bread that tastes of cheese. For more information check Youtube Salt rising bread by Jenny Bardswell and Susan Brown.
The Uncle Paedrus blog has a good discussion on salt rising bread.
Anon says it is not predictable and failures occur. Above mentioned sites explain this.
Type of cornmeal used is important. And potatoes are also used.
Love your site and visit regularly.
Question? Have you written of Innards Stew or Haslet?

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks everyone: I am delighted that salt-rising bread has not disappeared - and that in fact it seems to be undergoing a revival (thanks Rising Creek Bakery).
I love that the name seems to come from the use of a bed of hot rock salt to keep the mix warm.

Anonymous: I have done a post on haslet - see it at http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2008/05/pepys-porke.html

Auntie Kate said...

I first read about this in "Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've no clue if those books are common outside of the US, but they are a fascinating portrait of pioneer life from the perspective of a young girl who lived it.

In the Little House Cookbook, the recipe for salt-rising bread suggests using a thermos to create the ferment. If you're interested, I'll copy out the recipe from the book for you. There's also a recipe for Swedish crackers that uses "baker's ammonia".

Anonymous said...

In Mid Atlantic USA you can sometimes find this bread in Amish markets.

Anonymous said...

I attempted my first salt rising loaf. The starter failed. I used three year old cornmeal from the pantry and now understand that new cornmeal is needed so thanks for that bit of info. ALSO... I used skim, (fat free), milk. I don't imagen the pioneer women had skim milk. QUESTION... Do I have to use high fat milk to succeed in producing the starter? Thanks to All!

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Anonymous. Thanks for letting us know about your experiment. I would think pioneer women did use skim milk - they would have used the cream for butter or other dishes. I dont think it matters what sort of milk you use for the starter, but will be interested in any other readers' comments.

beautifulone62 said...

Thank you for your article on salt rising bread. In the 80's I worked for an old German baker who made the best salt rising bread I have ever tasted. Unfortunately he never shared the recipe, not even with his wife, and he died taking it with him to the grave. I have longed to have some of this amazing bread. Definitely will give your recipe a try and hope for the best. Cheers!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello beautifulone62: thankyou for sharing that memoir. i have never understood the extreme protectiveness of some folk for their recipes: everyone has their own techniques - and method is as important as an ingredient list, so food -especially such as bread - turn out differently under different hands. I can understand it if it is a commercial product, but not a home-made recipe.
I hope your experiment works out well - it will no doubt be different, but it will be uniquely yours!

Jacqueline Young said...

Going to attempt your recipe. My grandmother made this for us once in a while and I have tried her recipe once. Hard to understand many of her instructions and turned out to be very short bread : )
With the wonder of the internet and all of your helpful hints I will attempt again for my Aunt's bday. Read the instructions for my oven and found the instructions on how to set for "Proofing" bread. Wish me luck!!

The Old Foodie said...

Let us know how it turns out, Jacqueline!

Annie said...

The bakery at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield, Ohio (north side of Cincinnati) almost always has fresh salt rising bread on hand. People come from miles around to stock up.

Elizabeth Giacomozzi said...

I have a recipe that has yeast in the starter, that I'm trying this evening, and with any luck I will wake up to the stink in the morning! I've tried unsuccessfully to make this for years with the cornmeal starter method. I did find that you can buy salt rising yeast from king Arthur flour, which is the closest I've ever come to success! I have very fond memories of this bread which we had when we visited my grandparents. My Mom told me the bakery that made it used a lightbulb in a bucket to keep the starter warm...

Marsha Wagner said...

I made it last week and it came out perfect. I was worried since we are having such a cold winter. I kept it in the oven and the foam was perfect. I love the smelly bread. Best toast!

Anonymous said...

Our local bakery in Greeneville, TN, which is called Peggy Ann's, still makes salt rising bread regularly. They have a good business of shipping it out, apparently, as well.