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.

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.

Starter-1 SALT RISING BREAD

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