Classic American Salt-Rising Bread: a tasty journey into the past

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Have you heard of salt-rising bread?

Probably not, if you’re neither a passionate bread baker, nor a resident of certain parts of the country – the southern and western portions of the Appalachians, western New York down into western Pennsylvania, and parts of Michigan. This traditional American bread remains popular in these regions, where it’s often sold in bakeries.

But if you’re living in, say, Colorado, or Connecticut? You probably never heard of salt-rising bread.

So let me describe it to you: it’s a fairly dense, fairly moist, very close-grained white bread, with a distinctive “cheese-y” flavor. It makes wonderful toast. But its most salient characteristic? It’s not made with yeast. And, contrary to its name, it doesn’t rely on salt for rising; in fact, this bread has less salt than many standard breads.

So what’s the deal?

Salt-rising bread had its American origins back in the early 1800s, when commercially produced yeast wasn’t available. Housewives found that a mash of cornmeal and milk (and/or potatoes) could produce a bubbly substance that could then be used to raise bread.

The “starter” was tricky, though, needing consistent warmth to work; it’s thought that perhaps “salt-rising” refers to the rock salt that pioneer women might have heated and piled around their starter, to keep it warm.

These days, those of us experimenting with salt-rising bread find ourselves with the same challenge as our forebears: how to keep the starter warm for the 12 to18-hour, two-stage process it needs to leaven bread.

Heating pad, top of the fridge, near the wood stove, over a heating grate… all of these are imperfect solutions. (I know, I’ve tried them.)

But now, I’ve found the perfect tool for not just salt-rising bread, but all kinds of yeast breads, plus sourdough starter and yogurt, too.

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This “climate controlled” electric proofer offers temperature settings from 70°F-120°, plus a water tray for optimum humidity. If you’re a baker who struggles to find a cozy place in the house for rising bread or feeding sourdough (or salt-rising starter and bread), you might consider this tool.

But don’t worry; while this proofer makes the whole process a lot simpler, I’ve found another “hot spot” in my house; and it’s hopefully one that’ll work for you, too.

If you’ve never made salt-rising bread, please be prepared to trust me through some of the following procedures. Yes, it’s very important to keep the starter warm. Yes, it’s supposed to smell that way.  The bread’s aroma is redolent of cheese, though there’s no cheese in involved; the flavor comes from the slight fermentation of the ingredients during the bread’s preparation.

Speaking of fermentation, be prepared; the starter and dough will smell like… dirty socks? Old sneakers mixed with Parmesan cheese? Somewhat unpleasant, anyway, but please bear with me – it’s just the enzymes and bacteria doing their jobs and giving the bread its special qualities. If you’ve ever made cheese or yogurt, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

OK, let’s get started here, shall we? This bread is built in stages. First stage: starter #1.

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Heat 1/4 cup milk (skim, 1%, 2% or whole) until it’s nearly but not quite boiling; small bubbles will form around the edge of the pan (or microwave container), and you might see a bit of steam. This is called “scalding” the milk.

Cool the milk until it’s lukewarm, then whisk together the milk, 2 tablespoons cornmeal (yellow is traditional), and 1 teaspoon sugar in a small heatproof container. The container should be large enough to let the starter expand a bit.

A note on cornmeal: while you can certainly use “supermarket” cornmeal, organic is probably preferable, since it comes with additional “friendly bacteria.”

Cover the container with plastic wrap, and place it somewhere warm, between 90°F and 100°F. The bread proofer mentioned above is ideal for this, since you can set the exact temperature you want.

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I find my turned-off electric oven, with the light turned on for about 2 hours ahead of time (and then left on throughout the starter’s time in the oven) holds a temperature of 95°F to 97°F, perfect for this starter.

I tried a heating pad covered by an overturned bowl, but it didn’t work. Before you even start this process, find someplace reliably warm for the starter; if you can’t find someplace that’ll stay warm for up to 12 hours at a time, it’s best not to try this recipe.

Let the starter rest in its warm place overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.

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The starter won’t expand much, but will develop a bubbly foam on its surface. It’ll also smell a bit fermented. If it doesn’t bubble at all, and doesn’t smell fermented, your starter has failed; try again, using different cornmeal, or finding a warmer spot.

Next, we’ll build on this first starter; let’s call this starter #2.

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Combine the following:

1 cup hot water (120°F to 130°F)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Add 1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, stirring until everything is thoroughly moistened.

Stir starter #1 into starter #2.

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Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in the same warm spot starter #1 was in. Let it rest until very bubbly and doubled in size, 2 to 4 hours.

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Success!

If the starter’s not showing any bubbles after a couple of hours, move it somewhere warmer. If it still doesn’t bubble after a couple of hours, give it up; you’ll need to start over.

If the process isn’t working for you, don’t be too discouraged; even our pioneer forebears found this bread notoriously fickle, working perfectly one day, not so well another. Personally, I think it’s all about finding a spot that’s reliably warm, between 90°F and 100°F.

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Transfer your bubbly starter to a larger bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer (or your bread machine bucket).

Add the following:

4 tablespoons soft butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups (9 1/2 to 10 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Start with the smaller amount of flour. In the depths of summer, when your kitchen is hot and humid, you may need to use more. But usually you’ll only need about 2 1/4 cups to make a dough that’s cohesive and elastic yet still a bit sticky, as pictured above.

Hey, what’s with the salt being added after the dough was already partially kneaded, you ask? Simple; I forgot to add it when I added the butter and flour. Good lesson: when you forget an ingredient in yeast bread dough (including the yeast), simply knead it in when you remember.

In fact, sometimes you forget the yeast and only realize it when your dough doesn’t rise. Go ahead and knead the yeast into that unresponsive lump of dough, and give it an hour or so; it should be fine.

OK, back to business. Knead everything until smooth; this took 7 minutes at medium speed in my stand mixer. The dough will be soft, and fairly elastic/stretchy.

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Shape the dough into a log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.

Cover the pan, and place it back in its warm spot. Let the loaf rise until it’s crowned about 1/2″ to 3/4″ over the rim of the pan, which could take up to 4 hours or so.

This won’t form the typical large, domed top; it will rise straight up, with just a slight dome.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

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Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s nicely browned. Again, it won’t rise much; that’s OK.

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Remove the bread from the oven; if you have a digital thermometer, it should read about 190°F to 200°F at its center. Wait a couple of minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Run a stick of butter over the bread’s surface, if you like; this will add flavor, and a lovely golden sheen.

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Here comes the hard part: DO NOT slice the bread until it’s completely cool! You’ll make the loaf gummy if you do. And after all you’ve been through to get to this point, you surely don’t want impatience to get the better of you now.

Once it’s cool – enjoy! Toast it. Use it for sandwiches. Make grilled cheese. This bread keeps quite well at room temperature for 5 to 7 days; if there’s any left over after that, it’s best to wrap it tightly and stow it in the freezer.

Salt-rising bread can be quite a journey; but the end result is well worth it, in my book. Partly because I feel good keeping alive a very old tradition; and partly because, hey, who doesn’t like cheese-y bread?

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Classic American Salt-Rising Bread.

Print just the recipe.

 

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Keri

    Challenge accepted! With all the talk about salt-rising bread over the years on the Baking Circle, I’m going to have to give this a try and see what all the fuss is about. I’ll need to make sure to do it when my husband is out of the house, lest he think I accidentally left food out to go bad (again).

    Reply
  2. Anneedelweiss

    At times I do wonder how our forbearers did their cooking and baking in olden days – their tools and gadgets, where they got their ingredients, how they keep the hearth fire going in all sort of weather… So I appreciate very much this writing. It seems salt-rising is not the easiest way to get a loaf of bread. But I put a copy of this blog in my file of bread recipes just in case my curiosity and the challenge compel me to give it try one day.

    Stowing days-old bread into the freezer. Fine. But may I share with you Madam Marion Cunningham’s (a.k.a. Fannie Farmer) recipe for preserving bread? She said to break the loaf into pieces, about 2 to 3 inches, and toast them in a preheated 250° oven for about an hour. She called this ‘pulled bread’, and said this was often served in hotel restaurants in the 18th and 19th centuries. Imagine! So this is not just for leftover bread.

    The toasted bread, according to Madam Cunningham, “will keep almost indefinitely stored in an airtight container.” To test her method I once purposely kept some ‘pulled bread’ (made from a loaf of rye bread) for over two months in a container at room temperature. It was good to the last crumb.

    Since then I have done this ‘pulled bread’ quite a few times, with moderate department from Madam Cunningham’s recipe. Firstly I keep the crust on. Madam Cunningham said to feed the crust to the birds, but I enjoy it too. And I sometimes slice the bread instead. And I find that the pieces/slices will toast nicely in a turned-off oven after I have done some baking – no need to preheat the oven just for this purpose.

    Reply
    1. waikikirie

      Very interesting Anneedelweiss. I will be looking into this as it is just me and the hubby. Hate to waste bread and God knows me and the hubby don’t need to finish off a whole loaf in a day or so. Thanks!

    2. Anneedelweiss

      Glad you find the idea interesting, waikikirie. The recipe is from ‘The Breakfast Book’, another oldie but goodie. From the name I first thought it was a recipe for something like monkey bread. But it is to bake the bread twice, as to making biscotti. Basically it is to dry the bread in a slow oven, so as not to brown it. The result is similar to melba toast but of irregular shapes. Not entirely a thrilling idea but for the fact that it is a good way to keep bread from being wasted. I have tried different kinds of yeast bread, and it worked every time. Many ways to use this crunchy bread – even birds love this ‘pulled bread’, I think, more than a moldy piece.

      By the way, Madam Cunningham suggested that this should be served in a napkin-lined basket or dish. How about that?

    3. LIZBETH1944

      I do this with any home made breads leftover, be it rye, whole grain, or white. I use the dried bread for homemade stuffing or use the blender to make fantastic crumbs for meatloaf, meatballs etc.

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Sorry, Libby, I don’t know. The recipe calls for dairy milk, and that’s what I tested it with; not sure if there’s something special about the lactose that helps the bacteria grow… It would be a simple thing to test, though, and you wouldn’t waste much by experimenting, since the milk and cornmeal are both used in very small amounts. Let us know if it works, OK? PJH

    2. Steve

      Not sure about non-dairy milk but i have done it with water. There are recipes for salt rising that call for water and potatoes. I used water, potato, cornmeal, sugar and a pinch of baking soda to make a starter. Worked great. You can leave the potato in and mash it, i strained mine out.

  3. Judith

    Thank you P.J. I grew up eating Salt-Rising bread, I was born in 1940 and lived in Indianapolis, IN for the first 9 years of my life, my grandmother would only buy salt-rising bread even when I begged her to buy a loaf of Wonder bread (the polka-dots you know) I got my first “taste” of wonder bread in my school lunch–My reaction–I announced to the whole lunch room “This stuff is nasty!”

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Judith, clearly you’re a woman of exquisitely good taste! Hope you get a chance to make this bread sometime – PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Katie, unfortunately, I’d say this particular recipe shouldn’t be made with gluten-free flour. It’s a tough rise even with strong wheat flour; I think using GF, it would simply be a sodden puddle… sorry! PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Yes, Joanne, the oven needs to preheat without the rising loaf inside. Good luck – PJH

  4. PJ Palmer

    I took your “Ghoulish Halloween Cake” idea (added a bit of my own creativeness), and was pleased with the ghoulishly glowing results! Thanks so much for the idea!

    Reply
  5. Bernadette

    I love trying new and different types of breads and rolls so this recipe is going on my “to do” list. I do have the bread proofer as I have a very cool kitchen. It is one of the best purchases I have made. Just made pretzel rolls this morning so this recipe will just have to wait awhile…there are only 2 of us and it’s going to take a few days to eat the rolls.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Bernadette, that’s great you have the proofer – it certainly helps with this recipe. Good luck – PJH

  6. Cheylyn

    I LOVE salt rising bread. Growing up in WNY it was in all the local bakeries and restaurants. I sooo miss it. Thank You for posting this!!! Could you use a crock pot on low for the starter? Or would that be too warm?

    It’s not that it would be to warm, it’s that
    the bacteria will negatively react with the cast iron. If the cast iron is enameled that would be fine, other wise choose a glass or ceramic vessel. Betsy@KAF

    Reply
    1. Sarah

      I had the same question, and I’m confused by this answer. I’ve never seen a crock pot that was made of iron, enamelled or otherwise. As far as I know the inserts are all ceramic.

      Cheylyn, what I’m going to do is just give it a try and track the temperature (on “keep warm”). As pointed out above, all you stand to lose is a little milk and cornmeal!

    2. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi all,
      I was just chatting with Besty, and she was saying that her head she was picturing a cast iron Dutch Oven instead of a regular old crock pot. So don’t worry about the cast iron liner, we really do know it’s ceramic. :) ~ MJ

    3. Steve

      Its too warm. You could fill the crock pot with water 1/4, flip the lid, put you jar or bowl on the lid and cover it with towels. I use a mason jar for my starter. Turn the oven on for just a minute, then turn it off. Turn the light on, put the jar in and wait 12 hours. Also, if you have a gas stove the pilot light should keep it nice and warm inside, then you don’t need a light… I always set my starter in the oven with the light on but i don’t wait 2 hours for the light to warm it, i just pre-warm the oven.

  7. KateP

    Here in So Cal., Van de Kamp’s used to sell Salt Rising bread; Dad & I loved it. Everyone else would go around moaning “they’re making Stinky Toast again!!” I look forward to trying the recipe this weekend!

    Reply
  8. Nedra Russell

    Can you “save” a portion of the starter, feed it, and keep it going… same as with a sourdough starter?

    No, according to this recipe it is a one time deal. I have spoken to bakers who do have a salt rising starter going. You can certainly do some research on the web. Betsy@KAF

    Reply
    1. Steve

      No, your wrong… You can dry the cultures (starter) and use them later on, or share them with family or friends. Also… I have used a cup of starter to make a loaf, and replaced it with flour and water, then stored it in the fridge. Problem is, you start ending up with a salt rising/sourdough bread. Still tasty.

  9. Ray

    I love making bread using your recipes. This sounds interesting, kind of like a science experiment for long dark winter day:)

    Reply
  10. Sarah

    Will this recipe work with whole white wheat?

    For right now I suggest following the recipe. Down the line you can try experimenting with other types of flour, however it is just that, an experiment. betsy@KAF

    Reply
  11. Cynthia

    I was thinking maybe a crockpot on low, with the lid on, and maybe a small rack in the bottom to keep the starter slightly up in the air would work for starting and rising instead of the oven? Most go for 10 hours and then switch to warm after that.

    Just make sure your crock pot is enamel or ceramic not cast iron. The bacteria will react negatively with cast iron. Betsy@KAF

    Reply
  12. Kathy

    Hip Hip Hooray! Being from the south, this is a bread from my past; I can only find it in one bakery in Montgomery AL. I have tried to make it before, but I will use this recipe and hope to have success to share this bread, not only with my children, but with my grandchild.

    Reply
  13. Judy Austin

    My grandmother (born c. 1885) made superb salt-rising bread; I haven’t tried in decades, but I think I’d better do so now! One question: the recipe suggests putting the dough in a bread machine pan but doesn’t make clear how you might use the machine itself from there on. I generally make bread using the machine–on the dough cycle, however, not all the way through. (Partly because my hands are arthritic.) Advice?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Judy, you can mix/knead the dough in the bread machine, but take it out once it’s kneaded and proceed as the recipe directs, putting it in a pan and into a warm place to rise. That should work just fine. Enjoy – PJH

  14. Terry

    Do you think my dehydrator, which I can set to 95 degrees or a little less even, would make a good warm spot? It has five removable shelves with a fan in the back. Just thinking how those of us in cooler climates could make this work!

    I think that will work just fine! Betsy@KAF

    Reply
  15. Bob Starnes

    When you die and go to heaven salt rising bread will be served at your first meal. I have been told that the corn meal is the key ingredient. So much of the corn meal in grocery stores has additives. I’ll try the organic.

    Reply
  16. Gambles

    My mom has had me hunting for this recipe ever since I started baking bread last year!! She remembers it from college in the Northeast and is curious. The only things I did find terrified me. These blogs always give me the confidence to at least try. I can’t wait to show her this blog and try this recipe!! Thanks so much, as usual, for just always having great info.

    Suzanne

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      So glad we could help – we love finding old recipes. Just like buried treasure! Hope this is everything your mom remembers – PJH

  17. DavidK

    Salt rising bread brings back many memories from years gone by when I would make this using raw grated potatoes as the starter base. And you are so right, it does have that strange smell that fills the kitchen when raising and baking, however, once you get that first slice buttered and take a bite, all you can say is, wow!! Sadly, when I moved from Ohio to Florida, I lost my recipe using the raw grated potatoes! So, any suggestions as to amounts of potato to use? I would use the lighter in my gas stove’s oven for the necessary heat that allows the bacteria to grow, and that is where I proofed all my yeast dough. Now, with electric stoves there is no lighter. How about using a light bulb placed in the oven down on the bottom as the source of warmth? Of course you would have to turn it on!!
    David.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      David, I had a recipe once using grated potatoes, too – and I lost it, too! Why not just give it a try with 1/4 cup grated potatoes taking the place of the cornmeal in this recipe? And the light bulb in my oven seems to work for me; another small enclosed space would be your microwave, if you can somehow get a light bulb in there and still seal the door pretty securely to trap the heat… Good luck – PJH

    2. S. M.

      James Beard’s Salt-Rising Bread in ‘Beard on Bread’ calls for potato. The starter is 1 1/2 c. hot water, 1 medium potato (peeled and sliced thin), 2 Tbsp white or yellow cornmeal, 1 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp. salt. These are kept warm: “The electric oven turned to warm or with the light on will provide the right temperature, and so will a gas range with a pilot light on.” The potatoes are strained out before using the starter. This is a 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups of flour, 2 loaf recipe.
      It amazes me how many “new” tricks that I see around are things that James Beard published in the 60′s & 70′s. It seems that people are doing a lot of work nowadays to re-discover things that have been forgotten during the age of convenience foods (of course, I’m only 24, so my perceptions may be false:-).

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      “Beard on Bread” was my guide during my first forays into yeast baking, and I love his recipes to this day. You’re right, it’s wonderful how we keep rediscovering recipes and techniques (e.g., no-knead bread) that have been around for decades, even centuries. Each new generation has the pleasure of experiencing, for the first time, the complete baking journey, including all of the wonderful side paths that invite so much pleasurable wandering… Thanks for connecting here. PJH

  18. wyndbourn

    So happy to see this blog post! My mom and I would go to a local bakery to get a loaf of salt-rising bread whenever we could.We would toast a piece and then freeze the rest to take out one piece at a time to savor. Since that bakery is no longer around, if I can master this she will be so thrilled. Thank you for finding and explaining this recipe!

    Reply
  19. waikikirie

    I too have the electric proofer. We tend to keep our house a little on the chilly side in the winter, when I am more likely to make homemade bread, so I thought it was very important to have it. That’s what I tell myself to justify the purchase…teehee….Will be giving this a try for sure!!!!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Good purchase, waikikirie – I’m sure you’ll be counting your lucky stars you have it in January… :) PJH

  20. Jeanne Thompson

    I grew up enjoying the salt rising bread made by our local bakery in north east Iowa. Here in Tx you can get it at Central Market on Saturday only, if you get there early enough. A few months ago I made my first loaf and was very pleased how it turned out. It brought back a lot of memories

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      I’ve been thinking about that, Melodie, and I don’t see why not – each step might take a tad longer, that’s all. Let us know how that works, it would be good information to add to the recipe. Good luck – PJH

  21. Mary

    Such good memories you’ve stirred! We used to be able to buy salt rising bread in the grocery here in central KY when I was a child. Always puzzled me how bread that smelled something like old socks could make such wonderful toast! Can’t wait to bake some!
    I make homemade yogurt by putting the milk mixture in a container inside a cooler with boiled water added as a sort of water bath. Successfully maintains the temp needed for culturing yogurt for 12 hours or so. Do you think this same set up would work for the bread starter?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Glad we could bring back some happy memories, Mary. If it worked for your yogurt, it might work for the starter; all you can do is try and see, right? Good luck – PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      WOW, good deal. Just think, that’s less expensive than a big bag of potato chips, a McDonald’s Big Mac meal, a Starbucks fancy cup of coffee… and wouldn’t you rather have homemade bread, cookies, scones, cake, muffins, and pizza than any of those? :) PJH

    2. Mary

      PJ left out the JOY of baking and sharing with only the best! The lights in the eyes of the fortunate recipients make the cost worthwhile.

    3. PJ Hamel , post author

      Oh, Mary, I couldn’t have said it better. THANK YOU for sharing those thoughts and words here! :) PJH

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Fran, I think that would work just fine. I’m sure women baking bread 200 years ago weren’t making just a single loaf at a time… PJH

  22. Carolyn Shoemaker

    I have a cholesterol problem and wonder is I can substitute oil instead of butter. Any idea of how much oil?
    I have the first Bernard Clayton bread book – bought it in the early 1970′s. I learned what I know about bread baking through that book. I was intrigued by that salt rising bread recipe but never tried it. Let me know about the oil, please, and I’ll try it. Thanks.

    Reply
  23. Lana Smith

    YES, so happy to get this e-mail and recipe for salt-rising bread. I grew up with it in Fort Worth and there was only one or two places that sold it. I have tried it maybe three times and each time maintaining the needed temperature prevented the recipe from working. I’ll try again with your own method using the oven . Thank you so much. If this works, I’m flying home to serve it up to my 92 year old Mama, who adores it and divinity candy. I’ll bring them both!

    Reply
  24. Sherry

    I’m thrilled to have the salt rising bread recipe and how to video. I have read others but this one sounds just like the bread my Great Aunt made for us when I was a young child (I’m 73 now just to put it in prospective). Nostalgic memories came flooding back of a warm steamy farm kitchen and the aroma which I remember as wonderful. These memories are probably the most influential contribution to my love of baking. Ironically her recipe was lost when she died and I haven’t tasted this bread since. I can recall her voice repeating the same instructions reproduced by your comments. I do remember her cautioning my father who would bring her groceries, “Make sure you get stone ground cornmeal”. The other instruction was “the kitchen must be warm and free of drafts”. Thank you for not only giving me this lost recipe but all the forgotten memories which came with it.

    Reply
  25. Barbara

    I’ve made salt rising bread and fell in love from the first bite. Currently experimenting in my home for a suitable place for starter. If you haven’t done it and ever get the chance, give it a try. Wonderful stuff.

    Reply
  26. Nancy Middleton

    I was concerned that the recipe did not say to cool the scalded milk to lukewarm. Since the rising depends on natural bacteria I would worry that the heat would kill the fermenting agents. Since you say it smells like dirty tennis shoes, maybe it is using a bacterium that makes spores, so is more heat resistant. In any case, after a few hours of nothing happening, I threw in another dollop of corn meal. After a night in the oven with the light turned on, my starter one looked just fine, and smelled as advertised. I AM doubling the recipe, and I will let you know how it turns out!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Nancy, I think the bacteria develop as the mixture cools; apparently scalded milk doesn’t hurt it. I think the fact that all the quantities are so small (even when doubling) means the milk cools quickly, especially since it’s being mixed with room-temperature cornmeal. I eagerly await your results – it would be great to know for sure that doubling works. Thanks for your feedback here – PJH

  27. Nancy Middleton

    PJ, bacteria don’t develop. That would imply spontaneous generation. Either they are killed, or they are not. Some sporulating bacteria, e.g. Bacillus cereus, are more resistant. This used to contaminate the fermenter at times when we were making yeast preps, resulting in the smell of dirty tennis shoes as opposed to a nice yeasty bread scent (hence my suggestion that spores were involved.) Anyway, after the extra blast of corn meal it worked just fine–maybe doubling the milk and scalding it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup meant that the temp was too high. I’d recommend letting it cool to lukewarm before adding the cornmeal. The doubled recipe was great, my dough hook made quick work of the kneading and mixing (even when I forgot, initially, to put in the butter, which I had warmed in the same oven with the starter.) My trusty 4×8 KAF loaf pans made beautiful loaves. We’ve started on one, and frozen the other. I remember trying to make this as a kid, but my mother was a lousy cook, and the nuances of baking chemistry were not available to me. Thanks to KAF for their cookbooks and recipes, and their baker’s education!
    Oh, wait! Here’s what Wikipedia says: “One of the main rising agents in salt rising bread is a bacterium Clostridium perfringens, along with lactobacillus and other wild microbes, as opposed to mainly yeast or baking soda. There is no indication of salt rising bread having ever caused any human disease.[1]” I don’t see where lactobacillus produces spores (it’s what makes yogurt and cheese), but C. perfringens does, and the bacterium is a common source of food poisoning. The toxin it produces, however, is inactivated at 165 degrees F, so if that is what is making the bread rise, it would be safe to eat after baking at 350 degrees F. Maybe such a thing as knowing too much…anyway, thanks for the recipe and the experience!!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Thanks, Nancy – you’re obviously a more knowledgeable food scientist than I! I appreciate you taking the time to share what you found out here. AND to let us know that you can double the recipe, though letting the scaled milk cool down a bit before combining with the cornmeal. I’ll add this info. to the recipe. Thanks again – PJH

  28. Bronne

    The first thing I ever purchased from KAF was a salt rising starter. I keep checking to see if it will ever be carried again…sigh. It work exceptionally well.
    I had tried it without a starter previously and yes, it has a high failure rate… Better Homes and Gardens heritage cook book had a recipe for this as well. (circa mid 70′s) However it doesn’t stress the importance of maintaining the warm, constant, temperature.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Bronne, we were sorry to lose that starter; the company making it went out of business, and no one else in the country is making it. Trust me, we’ve searched EVERYWHERE. I hope you give this recipe a try, though – I was actually surprised how well it worked. Best of luck – PJH

  29. CCF4

    My oven has a bread proofing setting that says it is 100 degrees. I’m betting it cycles above and below a bit. I can leave that on over night – do you think a few degrees over 100 would be a problem? How temperature sensitive is the starter?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      I’m betting a few degrees over 100°F would be OK; you might as well try it, right? If it doesn’t work, all you’re out is a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal and 1/4 cup of milk. Best of luck – PJH

  30. Mindy M

    I am turning cartwheels ‘cuz I have two loaves of Salt Rising bread in the oven!! My first starter didn’t look like it worked – but I did see one bubble on the edge so I figured I’d mix starter # 2 and give it a go. We put the combined starters in the proof box (makes the process so much easier and keeps the warmth constant) and headed to grocery shop. When we got back, the combined starters were bubbling away and close to doubling. Success!

    Thank you King Arthur for helping me bring back a bread my family loved when I was a child – it was available in a bakery in the town where we spent weekends – we would buy as much as our freezer would hold and dread when we were out.

    It’s back! And I can’t wait to have toast tomorrow morning.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Mindy, how exciting to be able to re-create your childhood memory – and with your own two hands, not relying on a bakery. I’m glad your combined starters “took off,” and that your loaves rose well, too. Enjoy that toast tomorrow! :) PJH

  31. Penny McCloskey

    I am so excited to try YOUR recipe! I am 50 and grew up eating salt-rising bread, which was readily available at the local family grocer. At some point, I realized I stopped seeing it, but thought that maybe it was made only seasonally, etc, so I kept asking for years for it, until I started getting weird looks! I raised two sons who swear they never had any!
    Well, I just tried a different recipe over two weekends. Here’s what I found: my crock pot is a 3 in1 Hamilton Beach, and has a high-low-warm choice. Even on warm, the temp was over 180! (My husband is an engineer & has a thermocouple) So we just put the starter in a ceramic pitcher covered in plastic wrap, set it inside a bowl, wrapped it in a towel keeping the plastic exposed, and aimed a 60watt desk lamp at it-probably 3 inches from the plastic. Worked like a charm!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Penny, so glad you’ve been able to relive your childhood food memories and re-create this bread. Thanks for the light bulb tip – always good to hear the different ways people keep their starters warm. Cheers – PJH

  32. Marnie

    You made my day with the “dirty socks” comment. This is my 87 year-old father’s favorite bread, which we had often growing up here in Michigan. Our family name for it was “Foot Bread” since it was so stinky! Thanks for that memory, and I will try to make this for him for a surprise. He has been getting it at a local grocery store, but I think he’d love it homemade again! So, the top of the fridge wouldn’t be warm enough?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Marnie, give it a try – it needs to be around 90°F-100°F. Easy enough to mix up that initial starter and see what happens, right? Good luck – hope it succeeds so you can treat your dad to some real old-time home-baked bread! PJH

  33. Rob

    I use my crock pot and a temperature controller in tandem for sous vide cooking. I’m thinking I could set it at about 100 degrees, put the starter in a pyrex measuring cup and do it that way, just being mindful not to fill the water bath so full that the cup would float.

    As for the rising, If I did that in the daytime, I could keep my eye on the temperature in the oven.

    What do you think?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rob, you seem to have an excellent set-up for salt-rising bread – which can be challenging. Best of luck, Jaydl@KAF

  34. Kim Clifton

    HI there! I’ve tried this recipe numerous times and it turns out really great! I’m a new salt rising bread baker and it seems like I had to make a lot of it to get it right. Good thing my family really loves salt rising bread.
    Anyway, I have a question….I made this bread for my sister-in-law and she said it tasted great to her, but she would like it if it tasted more pungent. Any idea how to make salt rising bread that has a more strong or pungent taste?
    I tried adding some sliced potato to the starter of this recipe like someone suggested, but that didn’t seem to do the trick.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Amy Trage

      You could try letting it have a long slow rise in the refrigerator overnight and see if that helps develop the flavor. ~Amy

  35. Dorothy Szepesi

    Love salt-rising bread! My first attempts used store bought cornmeal – no bubbles! I’ll try again once I find some organic corn meal.

    BTW, I’ve always called what you refer to as starter #2, a sponge; a sort of light batter which gives the yeast a chance to really multiply.

    Reply
  36. basketmom

    I am thrilled to give this recipe a try. I grew up on Salt Rising and my father had fond memories of his Aunt making it. I have some rising in oven now. Read about a bakery on line in Pa. where you can get a starter from Rising Creek Bakery. I have not tried them yet as I am experimenting on my own, but this might be a source for others. Thanks. happy baking

    Reply
  37. Wesley

    My nicely golden loaf just came out of the oven and is cooling on the rack; a little disappointed because the middle collapsed. I did finally get a whiff of the pungency that was supposed to fill the house. Starter 1 worked fine in oven with light on: start 2 did well in crockpot water bath (on low for 15 minutes, then off, when I went by if outer surface of crockpot felt coolI turned it on again for 5), so decided to do loaf rise in crockpot also. Loaf pan sat on rim above water (by inches) and held lid up necessitating a draped towel to hold heat. 2 hours into planned 4 hour rise, I removed the towel to check on rise and found that the loaf was fully risen! (Someone covered the crockpot control knob and forgot to turn it off after 15 minutes!). Considered punching down, but decided to bake instead.
    Thanks for the intriguing recipe, hope it goes over as well as the Blueberry-lemon loaf I made this afternoon!

    Reply
    1. Wesley

      It did. Delicious toast this AM; had it as appetizer while rice cooked and more with the rice!

  38. Ginger Pedersen

    I have a recipe from 1891 where the author gives instructions on how to build a small cupboard with a lamp to make a starter and rise the loaves. The recipe is from Palm Beach, Florida where it was difficult to obtain yeast, so this type of bread was a must. The article is titled “Bread without yeast” – http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00075915/00431/5j
    This one has no milk as there were no cows in South Florida! Very similar to what you describe above, but 1890s style! The Sitting Room was a weekly column by Byrd Spilman Dewey (pen name Aunt Judith) in South Florida’s first newspaper.

    Reply
  39. Susan Brown

    Thank you, PJ, for writing this article about how to make Salt Rising Bread. I spend a lot of time working to keep this tradition alive, so it’s nice that you have also contributed to that end.

    If others wish to learn more about this wonderful tradition, they can go to my Salt Rising Bread website at:
    http://home.comcast.net/~petsonk. I am always more than happy to answer emails from those who are having problems succeeding with this very tricky bread.

    Susan

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Susan, thank you so much for connecting here and sharing your Web site. With such a great amount of experience, I know the information you provide there will be helpful. And thanks for letting people know you answer questions, too – excellent! :) PJH

  40. beekeeper

    When the starter for this doesn’t work well, rather than throw the whole batch out I just add 1 1/2 tsp. of yeast and treat it from there as I would a loaf of yeast bread. It has wonderful flavor and crumb and makes great toast.

    Reply
  41. Wesley

    On march 22nd, I made salt-rise bread and it turned out great! Kept the scrapings from dough (once let it dry in bowl) in refrigerator door ( butter compartment) since then. How do I use it to start again?

    Thank you in advance for your help and also want to say how much I enjoy your blogging of recipes! All have been a hit with me and mine.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Wesley, we make a fresh starter each time we prepare salt-rising bread. The process is a little different than keeping a starter going as one does for sourdough breads.~Jaydl@KAF

  42. Kate

    My paternal grandmother, born in 1903, used to make salt rising bread, which I loved to eat toasted. She was from Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she lived most of her life–but her mother-in-law was from western Pennsylvania, so I wonder if that’s who she got the recipe from. It never occurred to me to ask. She baked her loaves in old coffee cans, and usually baked several loaves and froze them.

    I hope I can figure out a good weekend to give it a try–I’d love to have it again!

    Reply

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