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Salt Rising Bread

Did you ever wonder when reading the Little House books, what the heck 'Salt Rising Bread' was? How on earth does salt act like a leavening agent? Well . . . it doesn't! It is used in the starter to suppress naturally occurring yeast, while allowing other microbes to grow that cause the bread to rise a bit. Very similar to sourdough . . . just harvesting other wild microbes instead of wild yeast! Here is a great description from Susan R. Brown's 'Salt Rising Bread Project':

A common misconception about Salt Rising Bread is that the name is derived from the presence of salt in the recipe. However, salt is not a necessary ingredient for Salt Rising Bread. In fact, salt is not even used at all in some recipes. One theory is that Salt Rising Bread was named for the method once used to keep the starter warm during fermentation. The starter was set over night in a bed of warm rock salt to maintain the required warmth.

One of the unique characteristics of Salt Rising Bread is that it utilizes naturally occurring bacteria, rather than commercial yeast, as its rising agent. This may have been one of the reasons that this bread was first made. Pioneer women were often unable to purchase yeast for their bread baking, so they had to utilize an alternative means of fermentation.

They stirred together water, a little water-ground cornmeal (ground between stones with water power), potatoes, and salt. They set this mixture, covered or uncovered, in a warm place (such as in the warm ashes of the day's left over cooking fire) until morning. In the morning, they removed the potatoes and used the liquid as leavening for this once famous bread. Standard leavening agents, such as baking powder and baking soda, were not commercially available in this country until the 1850s.

Here is one of her many Salt Rising Bread Recipes:

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized potatoes
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Boiling water & warm water
  • Flour
  • Sugar
  • Shortening
  • Bread pans

Method

Peel 2 medium sized potatoes. Place in a heavy quart jar or glass bowl.

Sprinkle 1/4 t. baking soda and 1/4 t. salt on top of potatoes.

Pour boiling water over potatoes so that they are covered.

Sprinkle 3 T. of flour on top of the water. Cover the container with a cloth and keep in a warm place overnight, until bubbly and foamy.

In the morning, if mixture is foamy, remove potatoes and thicken with flour until it has the consistency of pudding.

Put in a warm place until it rises to the top.

In a large bowl, place starter, 4-5 cups of flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 2T shortening, 2T salt and mix well.

Add 4 cups of warm water into flour mixture and mix well.

Continue to add flour (about 11 cups) until it is ready to knead.

Divide dough into 4 or 5 loaves and place them in greased bread pans. Set the loaves in a warm place to rise to the top of the pans.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

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