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.


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.


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

Show/Hide Comments


10 Mar 2012 - 1:26pm


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


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


cook for long time. love to figure out lost recipes with gaps left because ,baker retired and never wrote it down. or by hearsay . used people who were familiar with old foods to taste and test if i got it right. i then give the recipes away back to keep the local traditions alive. I have found one place the salt rising bread was less moist and when toasted had the feel almost like a English muffin. with slight crunch. great after taste. Instead of a flat top , a dome and great flavor and texture. The bread was dense, had a dome top , not as high as yeast bread. after experimenting and sending out taste samples I found the answers The baker used 11gms of salt, the increase ,s1.3tsp of baking soda for 2 loafs and extended baking time to get a inte al temp of 205 F, finish loaf out of pan rest at least 3 hrs. important in final rise is keep the dough in pans burst with oil to keep the top moist to stop a seal to form. cover with plastic or towel , til the dough reach the top of pan ,take cover off last hr. of rise to get the dome effect it works every time.


Sounds like a great recipe. This one, however, is historically appropriate to the 18th C because of it's lack of baking soda.

10 Mar 2012 - 2:22pm

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.


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!

10 Mar 2012 - 2:26pm

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.


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.

11 Mar 2012 - 3:09am


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?nBread is fascinating.

11 Mar 2012 - 3:46am


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

11 Mar 2012 - 6:36pm

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!


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.

11 Mar 2012 - 10:24pm


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.


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

13 Mar 2012 - 2:38am


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.


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. nnThe 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


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 burnnthe house down. I will experiment with that. Helen in Ark.

13 Mar 2012 - 6:54pm

Lee Ann

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

18 Mar 2012 - 2:48pm

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


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

25 Mar 2012 - 8:02pm


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.

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


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


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. nHelen in Ark.


Helen! That's fantastic! I'd love to see a couple of can email them to me at


Hello Helen and Theresa, I followed the box and goose neck lamp method, and it worked great for me. Thanks for sharing. It felt more like a science experiment at first, but it was fun. Enjoying fresh bread tonight. Thanks again, Patty

04 May 2012 - 1:25pm


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.


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

25 Jun 2012 - 3:27am

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!

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!


if it's foamy and smelly, then you should definitely proceed! It may just be slow in 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!

19 Oct 2012 - 2:13am

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.nnThanks Sarah

22 Oct 2012 - 7:03am

The Comte St…

talk type to everyday. One friend, Lori, and I have become especially close. She is OKs number one recipe tester and idea bouncer off-er, all from almost 3000 miles

23 Oct 2012 - 8:24pm

Island Vittles…

Lori and I chat for a few moments (or hours) everyday. Weve even been known to conduct simultaneous cross-continent baking experiments, sending each other pictures of our efforts to compare and

26 Feb 2013 - 8:23pm

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.


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

25 Mar 2013 - 11:04pm


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. :)

01 Jun 2014 - 6:58pm


I realize this is silly... .and it is not for myself, but my husband cannot have gluten.... will this work with GF flours? I would assume so... =). being new to the GF world, I thought I might ask... =). thank you!!!


It's not a silly question, Anne Marie! I don't have a definite answer, but I doubt this would work with GF flour, at least not without tinkering with the recipe. Gluten is a key factor in a bread's rise, but I really don't know much more about it.

15 Aug 2014 - 1:21am

Kim in Phx

I used to keep a sourdough starter but it was too much work. Now I make extra starter and then spread it thinly on a Silpat and dry it for 24-48 hrs. After it's dry, I crack it into pieces and put it in the freezer in a bag. When I want sourdough pancakes, waffles, bread, pizza dough, etc., I let the flour, water & starter sit out overnight (in summer in Phx) or maybe 24 hrs and then proceed from there. Then I know I have a good starter. I've been doing this for years and it never fails. I don't measure how many starter chips I use, I just grab a handful and eyeball it. I might try this although I love Irish soda bread for ease. But, for Outlander dinners, I'll definitely consider this. With thanks!

14 Jul 2015 - 3:09pm

Barbara Wortman

I have been very successful with this bread from October to May. Now in June and July I have not had any success. The only difference I can imagine is that the humidity here in Texas has been horrible! and I cannot get any starter to work. Could that possibly be the problem?


Mystery n the kitchen! Hmmm...could be the humidity, but I'm wondering about your yeast...what's the expiry date on the label?

03 Nov 2014 - 3:56pm

Barbara Wortman

After many many tries with many different recipes I am finally having success with this one. Starter rises nicely directly under the bulb in my oven. I added 7C flour but dough seemed a bit too wet. After second rising I needed to add at least 2 more cups of flour. I put it in the bread machine and let it knead for about 8 minutes. Still so sticky I needed more flour in order to handle it. It should have cleaned the bowl and the bread machine but there was a lot of sticky dough left. Seems like a lot of flour.


Hmmm...not sure why you need so much flour, Barbara. Changes in humidity wouldn't cause that kind of discrepancy, so I'm puzzled. You definitely want to add enough flour before the first rise to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. The second rise should take place in the pan only, after you've divided the dough and formed the loaves.

17 Nov 2014 - 9:08pm


I think we may be a success. I started this adventure last night. I put together the starter as directed but it wasn't a "pourable" consistency, I live in Colorado Springs which is 6,035 ft above sea level. I noticed the same issue with other bread recipes. So, I added more water and of course I didn't measure it. Poured the starter into the jar covered it and put it in the crock pot with water. Viola!! I wake this morning about 12 hours later and the mass is just bubbling away. :-) I let it go another hour and a half-ish while I make your Honey-Buttermilk. I gather the remaining ingredients and put it all together. At first, it was dry and not forming the ball so I added 1 tbls of milk (brain cell kicked in) and the ball formed. It was very sticky so I dusted it with a little flour, formed it up and put it in the bowl for the first rise. After 4 hours, it had doubled up. I cut it in half and it was very sticky. I dusted my hands and had no issue working the dough. It's in the pans for the second rise as I type. A note, I didn't get the "rotten cheese" smell when I opened the starter jar. It hit after the 1st rise and I removed the covering. Not overpowering, just noticeable. Can. Not. Wait.


To finish off the saga. It took 2 hours for the dough to complete the 2nd rise. They are now cooling on a rack. You didn't specify in the recipe in/out of the pans or for how long. The house has a "cheesy" aroma to it. I distinctly hear butter screaming for the bread.

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