Amazing story of the Appalachian “salt-rising bread”

Salt rising bread

Amazing story of the Appalachian “salt-rising bread”

Pioneer women in the Appalachian frontier discovered a method for producing naturally fermented white bread in the 18th century. They called it “salt-rising bread,” and over time it became an important part of Appalachian food.

Salt-Rising Bread

Since commercial yeast wasn’t available until the 19th century, maintaining a cool environment and regular feedings of a bread starter could be challenging in a frontier setting. Despite the fact that the exact history of salt-rising bread is unknown, it appears that pioneer women must have found a way to make bread rise by combining a little milk and flour and leaving it in a warm location overnight.

salt-rising bread
Photo – Getty Images

It’s unclear why the resulting bread is referred to as “salt-rising.” Both the method and the finished product do not heavily rely on salt. One explanation holds that in order to get the temperature required to begin the process, pioneer women frequently stored their dough in salt barrels overnight. But nobody is certain.

The starter dough for salt-rising bread must be about 110 degrees Fahrenheit for the magic to happen, which necessitates Appalachian cooks to come up with a variety of ways to achieve just the right temperature. In contrast to sourdough bread, which depends on wild yeast, salt-rising bread rises at room temperature.

Scientists now know that the salt-rising bread is caused by the microbe Clostridium perfringens, which is a potentially deadly infection that can be made harmless by baking.

salt-rising bread
Photo – Pinterest

One contains milk and cornmeal, while the other contains water and potatoes.In either case, the mixture turns frothy and gives off a strong, unique smell when combined and allowed to sit overnight at the ideal temperature. This “raisin” has a little flour added to it. More water and flour are added after a couple of hours, when it too starts to foam, and the dough is baked into a rich, fragrant loaf.

Only a few devoted bakers and culinary historians are currently preserving the salt-rising bread tradition, which takes roughly 18 hours of occasionally close attention. But there are recipes online for anyone who wants to try it.

salt-rising bread
In the picture are Susan Brown and Genevieve Bardwell, who specialize in salt-rising bread, as well as Amy Dawson, a former apprentice in the West Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Photo from the West Virginia Folklife Program

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