Experts share art, tradition of this Appalachian classic
BY Genevieve Bardwell AND Susan Ray Brown
Submitted to The Dominion Post
Here is another bread recipe that doesn’t require yeast. It is called salt rising bread. Many of you have probably heard your grandmothers talk about it or, if you are lucky, you have even tasted it. Without a doubt, toast made from salt rising bread can’t be beat. Add some real butter and homemade jam, and you have a treat to rival any other comfort food around!
Perhaps, if you try making this bread now, the delicious taste and smell coming from the toaster will give you a few fond memories from this time of COVID-19.
The history of salt rising bread is centuries long, beginning in the 1700s when the Appalachian pioneer women perfected the skills to make it successfully. West Virginia is one of the salt rising bread capitals of the world. For example, in Marion County, and, in particular, Fairview, almost everyone has a personal salt rising recipe from their grandma, or they know someone who does. This is also true in Greenbrier County. Susan’s grandmother’s recipe is famous in the Ronceverte area.
Although making salt rising bread utilizes common ingredients found in almost any American kitchen — flour, potatoes, cornmeal and baking soda — it is the time involved and the critical temperature of the starter that will guarantee success.
The initial fermentation of the starter usually takes 8-9 hours, and sometimes up to 10 or more hours. But since people are now working at home during the pandemic, the timing can be adjusted to fit your schedule.
Genevieve usually begins the starter around 9 p.m., so the fermentation in the starter will be ready around 5-6 a.m. If this is too early for you, then begin your starter later, like at 10 p.m. Or, you can begin the fermentation at 10 in the morning. This will enable you to make your sponge around 7 p.m., your dough around 8 p.m., and have warm loaves fresh from the oven by 9:30 p.m.
The warmth of the starter needs to be kept at a consistent temperature for the duration of this time. You must use a source of heat that is consistent and keep the temperature of the starter around 104-110 degrees for the duration. Here are some suggestions: 1) Set the covered starter in water with a sous vide thermometer set at 104 degrees; 2) Set the covered starter in a Styrofoam ice chest with a low watt light on and 3) Put your Crock Pot on the lowest setting, place three fingers width of water in the crock, place the lid on UPSIDE DOWN, put two pot holders on top of the lid, then your jar of starter. Cover your jar loosely with plastic and then a towel around your jar and Crock Pot.
A secret Genevieve has found to help guarantee success is to add the same amount of garbanzo flour in your starter as cornmeal. She suggests adding the garbanzo flour in whatever recipe you choose below.
To learn more about salt rising bread, we suggest our book, “Salt Rising Bread: Recipes and Heartfelt Stories of a Nearly Lost Appalachian Tradition,” (2016, Bardwell and Brown). You can also watch a YouTube video with instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fVfhsOL1Zo&t=715s
Fortunately for us in the Mon County area, we have a bakery that specializes in salt rising bread. Rising Creek Bakery in Mt. Morris, Pa., is just a few miles north of Morgantown and makes authentic salt rising bread almost daily. They will ship fresh loaves anywhere in the U.S. to those who long for the ol’-timey flavor and the memories conjured up upon slicing this wonderful bread.
We always enjoy hearing the memories and stories about salt rising bread in West Virginia. You can contact Genevieve at email@example.com or Susan at her salt rising bread website at saltrisingbread.net. We would love to hear how it goes.
Help us keep this wonderful West Virginia tradition alive.
This is Katheryn Erwin’s (Susan’s grandmother) salt rising bread recipe, using potatoes:
SALT RISING BREAD USING POTATOES
STARTER: Place 1 medium sliced potato (peeled or unpeeled) in a jar or bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of cornmeal, 1/4 teaspoon soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups of boiling water. Stir or shake slightly. Cover with a cloth and keep in a warm (104-110 degrees) place for 8-10 hours, until it is foamy and has the salt rising “aroma” (like dirty gym shoes or old cheese). Next, pour off the liquid into a large bowl and discard the potatoes.
SPONGE: To the starter liquid, add 2 cups of very warm (but not hot) water, 1/2 cup of shortening, 1 teaspoon of salt, 4 teaspoons of sugar, enough flour (3-5 cups) to make a slightly stiff batter. Let rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour.
DOUGH: Work in enough flour (approximately 6-8 cups) to make a soft dough. Divide into 3 portions. Place loaves in 3 greased pans. Allow dough to rise until it reaches the tops of the pans, usually 30-40 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until golden on top. The finished loaf should have a flat top.
This is Pearl Haines’ salt rising recipe using milk:
SALT RISING BREAD USING MILK
STARTER: In a small bowl or jar, combine 2 tablespoons of cornmeal, 1 tablespoon of flour, and 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda. Pour 2/3 cup of heated milk (heat to 175 degrees, just before boiling) over this mixture and stir. Cover the container with a cloth and keep warm, until bubbly and foamy.
SPONGE: In the morning, if the mixture is foamy and stinky, you are successful! Add 1 cup of very warm water and enough flour to make a slurry the consistency of pancake batter. Cover, set in the same warm place, and allow this to double in volume, which can take 1 to 2 hours.
DOUGH: Place the sponge in a large bowl to make the dough. Add approximately 1 cup of warm water and 3-4 cups of flour for each loaf of bread you want to make (up to
10 loaves). Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each loaf, then knead to form the dough. Divide dough into sections so that each fills half the pan (about a pound and half or more). Form dough with smooth side up. Place in greased bread pans. Set the loaves in a warm place till they rise to the top of the pans. If desired, you can make a diluted egg wash to brush on top of the loaves before they go into the oven.
Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Remove loaves from pans to cool.