Salt Rising Bread from Drums of Autumn

Salt Rising Bread from Drums of Autumn

“No, let him stay, Auntie,” he said, croaking slightly.  “He’s a good fellow.  Are ye no, a charaid?”  He laid a hand on the dog’s neck, and turned his head so his cheek lay pillowed against Rollo’s thick ruff.

“All right, then.”  Moving slowly, with a wary glance at the unblinking yellow eyes, I approached the bed and smoothed Ian’s hair.  His forehead was still hot, but I thought the fever was a bit lower.  If it broke in the night, as it well might, it was likely to be succeeded by a fit of violent shivering — when Ian might well find Rollo’s warm hairy bulk a comfort.

“Sleep well.”

Oidhche mhath.”  He was half asleep already, drifting into the vivid dreams of fever, and his “good-night” was barely more than a murmur.

I moved quietly about the room, tidying away the results of the day’s labors; a basket of fresh-gathered peanuts to be washed, dried and stored; a pan of dried reeds laid flat and covered with a layer of bacon grease to make rushlights.  A trip to the pantry, where I stirred the beer mash fermenting in its tub, squeezed out the curds of the soft cheese a-making, and punched down the slow-rising salt bread, ready to be made into loaves and baked in the morning, when the small Dutch oven built into the side of the hearth would be heated through the night’s low fire.

Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn, Chapter 28

Salt Rising Bread (SRB) is a dense, yeastless white bread that uses a unique overnight fermentation process as its rising agent.  While its origin remains uncertain, it most likely came to the United States with 18thC European immigrants.  It was made all over the country, but was especially popular in the Appalachian states.

The very name is a misnomer.  Salt is not even a necessary ingredient for Salt Rising Bread, although it does lend great flavour to the loaves when included. The bread most likely acquired its name because the starter was originally set in a bed of warm rock salt overnight to maintain the required temperature for fermentation.

Salt-Bread-Starter-1

It took me 3 attempts to get the starter fermenting on a bed of coarse salt in the slow cooker/crock pot.  I finally achieved success with a starter from a woman in Pennsylvania who made SRB for over 80 years.  This picture shows the starter just after I uncovered it after 15 hours on the Warm setting.

A much more practical way to keep the starter at temperature is to put it in a tall jar with a lid, and then stand the jar in a crock pot partially filled with water.

starter-lori

Since no yeast is present, the dough is leavened entirely by the gases which are a by-product of the bacterial fermentation. SRB has an exceptionally close grain, a fine texture, an extra-white crumb, as well as a distinctive flat top and a subtle cheese-like flavor and aroma.

But SRB is also infamously tricky.  The starter can be tough to activate, and even if you manage it, the life span of the bacterial organisms is limited and eventually terminates.  Sourdough starters, in contrast, can be kept indefinitely because they contain a variety of continually growing wild yeasts and bacteria.

risen dough- lori

To help me in this temperamental baking venture, I enlisted the help of a new online friend from the OK Facebook page.  Lori and I share a love of many things, including, obviously enough, Outlander and cooking.  And when I found out that Lori also has professional culinary training, I jumped on the chance to have her join me in conducting simultaneous colonial bread baking experiments in our cross-continent modern kitchens.  (While I’m in BC, Canada, Lori lives in Louisiana.)

Altogether, Lori and I made 5 successful batches of Salt Rising Bread over 2 long days. We traded photos/tips back and forth, marvelled at our unexpected success and spent a lot of time, just hanging around, waiting for something to happen.  It’s a fascinating process from a different era, and it gives you a very good idea why the Suffragette movement didn’t come about a little sooner.

The women were stuck waiting for the dough to rise.

panned - Lori

You’ll find that the times I’ve given in the recipe are guidelines — this dough does not rise before it’s time — the last batch I made took 11 hours to rise once it was in the pans.  It’s not exactly instant yeast.

But if you like to bake, I think you’ll find it fun.  Pick a day when you’ll be around the house all day, and you should, if all goes well, have 2 fresh loaves of bread for your efforts.  Start some Crock Pot Chicken Fricassee after you put the dough into the pans for its second rise, and you’ll have an Outlander-themed dinner worthy of Mrs. Bug.

finished bread - lori

My thanks to Susan Brown and her Salt Rising Bread Project page.  The recipe below is adapted from her Starter #3 Recipe.  I highly recommend reading through Susan’s site before starting your own batch.  Lori and I both found the information invaluable.

(Click on the title below for a printable version of the recipe.)

Salt Rising Bread

A yeast-less bread, well known for it’s dense texture, soft crumb and unusual odour that was popular across the central and southern Appalachian states until the first half of the 20th C.

Yield:  2 loaves

Starter:
All-Purpose Flour – 1 Cup
Cornmeal – 2 Tble
Water, lukewarm – 1 Cup

Dough:
Milk, lukewarm – 2 Cups
Butter – 1 Tble
Sugar – 1 Tble
Salt – 1 tsp
All-Purpose Flour – 6 to 7 Cups

Read the whole recipe through at least once before you begin.

Mix together the ingredients for the starter and pour into a pitcher or tall jar and cover with a lid.

Place the pitcher in a crock pot filled with enough water so that it is 1” higher than the level of the starter in the jar.  Set the crock pot on warm and leave it overnight.  The starter must be kept in a warm place (90-110° F) for 8-16 hours.  When the starter has successfully fermented, it will be foamy/bubbly and have developed a distinct aroma of “rotten cheese.”  If, after that time, the starter is not activated, discard and start again.

To the fermenting starter, add the milk, salt, sugar, butter and flour to make a soft, slightly sticky, dough that can be easily handled.

Form into a ball, cover with clean towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until almost doubled in size, approx 2-4 hours.

Grease 2 loaf pans with butter.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured counter, press each piece into a rectangle about  ½” thick.  Starting on the shorter end, roll up the dough one section at a time, using your thumbs to pinch the seam closed after each roll.  Pinch the final seam closed, then gently rock the loaf to even it out — do not taper the ends.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pans.  Ensure the loaf touches both ends of the pan to ensure an even rise.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and set aside to rise again, until the dough is doubled in size and cresting the top of the pans, approx 2-6 hours.

Bake at 350° F for 30-45 minutes.

Ith gu leòir! (Eat Plenty)

lunch-

I am a professional chef, a food writer and an unabashed fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

No Comments

  1. outlanderfan

    Geez! I think I know what Claire missed more than hot running water- grocery stores! Kudos to you & Lori for recreating the recipe!

    Reply

    • Theresa

      You’re not kidding, Jenn! I’m not usually a Wonder Bread girl, but sometimes you just want something easy…

      Reply

  2. Lisa C

    I have tried twice to make the darn bread, with no success so far; but I am determined. It is important to have the “germ in” corn meal as well! My crock is too hot to ferment at the right temperature. I am thinking of using a heating pad next time and wrapping the jar with a bowl to keep in the warmth.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      I used stone-ground organic corn meal and Lori used regular, plain ol’ cornmeal, both with good results. The heating pad method didn’t work for me, as my heating pad wasn’t hot enough (grr). I also tried starting it in the oven with the light on, which didn’t get hot enough either, but with a larger watt bulb (40W maybe?) I am convinced this method would have worked. Good luck, Lisa!

      Reply

  3. Lisa C

    Also, If you start the fermentation of the starter at dinner time on friday night, then hopefully be saturday afternoon you will have the starter finished and can start on the leavening process.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      In my experience, if the starter isn’t activated after 8-16 hours, it’s time to toss it and start again. If you begin your starter at about 8pm, then, by 8am or 12 noon the next morning, your starter should be active and ready to proceed.

      Reply

  4. deniz

    Amazing. I still haven’t even tried the other bread yet, but I’d love to try this one. I find the whole process of fermentation interesting. I think it’s also in DoA or maybe ABOSAA where Claire mentions putting out a bowl of bread dough (?) to catch a yeast from the air – how did they know the right yeast would land in the bowl?
    Bread is fascinating.

    Reply

  5. lior

    this looks really good!
    when is your cookbook coming out? i LOVE all your recipes!!! it has really motivated me to cook more often!!

    Reply

  6. Kiri W.

    Wow, I had never heard of salt rising bread, what an educational post! Now, I love dense breads, so I feel like I’d really enjoy a slice of this. Very cool post!

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Thanks, Kiri! Lori and I both had a lot of fun learning about it…I’d never heard of salt rising bread until I saw it in Drums of Autumn.

      Reply

  7. bullrem

    I have mine started. How did they keep that constant temp year round for this started, I wonder?? We will see what success I have. The mixture just now was thicker than I thought it would be. But then that is how you make flour paste – so there. My crock pot just has low and high. I hope that will be ok. Helen in Ark.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      oooh, how exciting, Helen! Let us know how it goes. I hope the low setting is low enough…we shall see!

      Reply

  8. bullrem

    Well, no the low setting was not low enough. After about three hours the starter was a solid mass working on being cooked through. The water temp was over 150 degrees. I tried another crock (just with water) and it reached the same temp and that crock had a warm setting. So before I try again, I need advice on maintaining 100 degrees without waiting for August. Helen in Ark.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      I was afraid of that… :( But no fear, we’ll figure out a method that works! I did try it at the back of the oven, beside the oven light. It wasn’t hot enough, so it didn’t work, but I think with a 25W or 40W bulb it would work.

      The other idea, Helen, is a heating pad. Perhaps set a bowl of water on a heating pad for a couple of hours and see what temperature you get? You can adjust the pad’s setting from there…keep us updated! Theresa

      Reply

      • bullrem

        I was just thinking I might fix a small box with a heat lamp, pan of water, my starter, and a towel over the whole thing. This might work if I do not burn
        the house down. I will experiment with that. Helen in Ark.

        Reply

  9. Lee Ann

    I think I might give this one a go!!!

    Reply

  10. Susan Brown

    Hi, Theresa. This is Susan Brown (the “SRB lady” as I am sometimes called) writing. I am so excited to see your web site and to know that you are making SRB! It’s especially exciting that you have introduced this wonderful bread to so many other people through your site. I just love it that you are helping to “keep the tradition alive,” as I like to think of it. Congratulations on being successful with your bread! And, by the way, the picture of your bread looks great. The loaf should be golden and should be flat on the top, as yours was. Thank you for mentioning my webpage about SRB. I am always more than happy to help others, through email from my website, in their efforts to make SRB. It’s all so very interesting and fun, isn’t it!! Best wishes to you! Susan

    Reply

    • Theresa

      Susan, thank you for stopping by our little kitchen! And thank you for your site…a wealth of SRB information! Theresa

      Reply

  11. bullrem

    OK, here is what I will try next week. I have a box about 2 feet tall by 1 foot across. I have a goose-neck table lamp, thermometer and a quart canning jar. I set this up this last week and the temp reached 90 degrees. We will see what results I can achieve for real. Helen in Ark.

    Reply

    • Susan Brown

      Hi, Helen. You will need to reach a higher temperature than 90 degrees for your SRB starter to work. The bacteria necessary for success with SRB needs to have at least 104-106 degrees to grow. Good luck to you!! Susan

      Reply

      • bullrem

        I checked it just now before going to bed. It is at 100 and I saw a few bubbles. We will see. Sweet Dreams.

        Reply

      • Theresa

        Wonderful…thanks, Susan!

        Reply

        • bullrem

          Well, the box method worked. The bread rose, I kneaded it and placed it in the baking pans, it rose again, I baked it and we thoroughly enjoyed it for supper tonight. Yeah, me!! I have pictures, but I am not sure if you want to see them, or how to get them to you.
          Helen in Ark.

          Reply

  12. Angela

    I make coconut milk yogurt that needs to stay between 90 to 115 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. After several failed attempts, i have found if i put my crock pot on warm and fill most of the way with water, i can keep 2 jars of yogurt at that temp. I leave the lids off and cover with a towel. I am now ( due to allergies) trying to make this bread. Am hoping a similiar technique will work for the starter.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      That technique sounds very similar to the one we had most success with, Angela…I tried covering the jar with the starter with a towel, but I found the mix dried out…a tight fitting lid worked best for both Lori and I. Good luck with it! Theresa

      Reply

  13. Mindy Reed

    I can’t wait to try this!! I’m going to spend my day tomorrow experimenting with the temperature thing and purchasing my cornmeal so I can start the “starter” tomorrow night! Wish me luck!

    Reply

    • Theresa

      So cool, Mindy! Good luck!

      Reply

      • Mindy Reed

        It has been 15 hours and my starter is only slightly foamy but most certainly smells like rotten cheese {GAG} … and it isnt much above the level it was last night. Your appears to have foamed up quite a bit. Do you think it’s worth carrying on with the recipe? Or if I give the starter more than 16 hours is that bad? I’m not completely bummed but I’m not sure that it’s quite right either lol!

        Reply

        • Theresa

          if it’s foamy and smelly, then you should definitely proceed! It may just be slow in starting…my first batch was like that, but by the time I shaped the loaves, the rising action had really picked up speed! The timing is a guideline…yours may take an hour or two more (or less, for that matter). good luck!

          Reply

  14. Sarah O'Neil

    Ive found i cant make anything homemade with yeast in it. So ive been searching for bread recipes with no yeast. Im excited to try this. My question is when you put the start in the crock pot does the crock pot need its lid on or do you leave it off? Any other help would be great.

    Thanks Sarah

    Reply

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  17. Elaine Boyle

    Most of my dad’s family were raised on mountain farms (East Tennessee, Western North Carolina), and I can remember them making this bread. As many of them cooked on wood stoves, they would put the starter (or anything that needed to be kept warm) on the back of the stove, usually covered with a towel. A crock pot seems like a good modern substitute. I love your page – it brings back so many memories of growing up in the mountains, and the wonderful country-style food my great-aunties would make.

    Reply

    • Theresa

      What a wonderful memory from your childhood, Elaine! So glad you like what you see here in my little kitchen. ;)

      Reply

  18. Brynne

    My husband and I are from (and still live in) Western NC. This is his favorite bread. When he was little and got sick- his grandmother made “milk toast” which is toasted srb covered with warm milk, butter, and paprika. Thank you for your post! I think I will give this a try. :)

    Reply

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