Salt-Rising Bread

Where and/or how was the salt-rising bread process created? SRB is leavened by Clostridium perfringens and my interest is in the discovery of its use as a leavener.

Welcome. You aren’t in real life John Thorne are you?

Give me some help. How do you know that the bacterium C. perfringens is the leavening agent? Cite?

It’s a troll. For a reason why it’s a troll, check out this.

Wonko If he/she is truly a troll, they have an unusual way to post to get a rise out of us.
If you think it’s a troll, e-mail a mod.

I’ll reserve judgement. Seems too esoteric for that.

If it’s a troll it’s a more mannerly and well-bread one than most …

At least one source admits it as a possibility:

Oddly enough that paragraph provides a link to the same dire-sounding description of the microbe that Wonko cites. You would think that somebody extolling the wonders of the bread would steer clear of linking to a page from the “Bad Bug Book” concerning the purported leavening organism.

It’s not inconsistent - the poisoning comes from the actions of the live bacteria. When you bake the bread, you undoubtedly kill them all off.

A few sites (like that one) claim that salt rising bread originated in the early part of the 19th century, but nothing that seems really authoritive. Inavailability of other leavening agents may have caused discovery of the technique.

The OED suggests it is a US term. The earliest quote in print they supply is

Damn! I hate when I post that quickly, especially when the OED says it’s US in origin.

So, I pull down my Mathews, and discover that the OED is right but wrong. But only in minor detail.

The quote is actually from 1833(but published in 1846), and was "[The wife of a Canadian settler]must know how to manufacture hop-rising or salt-rising for leavening her bread. Then a quote from 1846. Other quotes from 1865, etc.

It’s obviously an American Invention. Otherwise, one would have expected the OED searchers to have identified it otherwise years ago.

So why would the process have been discovered in the US in the time frame of 1800-1833.? I only hypothesize the dates, as it would seem probable.

Anyone up to chasing “hop-rising” bread?


North American, maybe.

Aplolgies. I posted too quickly again. North American it is.

To add info, the lady who wrote the book in 1833 was Catharine Parr Traill. Seems she and her sister, who were both married to Scotmen, immigrated to Ontario in 1832.

I doubt that there is a Scot connection for salt-rising as the OED had no notion of the term before Ms. Traill.

A competent laboratory, at my expense, has analyzed my SRB starters for C.perfringens and, dependent upon the starter, reported everything from 850,000 cfu/ml (bacteria colony forming units) in a plain flour starter to 1.6 billion cfu/ml in a cheese-initiated starter. DNA analysis identified the bacteria to be Type A among the five known poison producers.

For a report of my activity, see Petits Propos Culinaires No.70 available via

My searches of the Web during the past year produce zilch for insight into SRB origin. In posting this question from rural Maine, I imagined that someone would come forward with better reference material than the Web.

Thanks for sharing the info about the lab analysis.

Unless I missed it, the issue No. 70 of PPC is not yet posted to the website. So, kind of hard to learn much more going that route.

You said

Considering that you work for the successors to Alan Davidson, you certainly have access to much better historical information that anyone on this board, short of a research librarian with an extreme interest in early North American cooking.

Without sounding insulting, you did know the OED source/date for the first appearance of the term in print, didnt you? Have you found any cite prior to the (1833) use by Traill?

Sorry to mislead you. PPC 70 is not posted on the Prospect Books site, but is available through their agent whose e-mail address and telephone number etc. are posted.

My oldest reference is “Mackenzie’s Five Thousand Receipts in all the Useful and Domestic Arts” published in 1831 by John L. Kay & Co. of Pittsburg, PA.

Though there are several bread “receipts” all use yeast but for one based on pumpkins. However, under “Fermentation by Various Means” there are a couple of recipes that probably depend on C.perfringens. e.g.:
“Sixth substitute - Boil one pound of good flour, a quarter of pound of brown sugar, and a little salt in two gallons of water for one hour; when milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close; it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours. One pint of this will make 18 lbs. of bread.” If yeasts are not destroyed by one hour of boiling, I cannot imagine what shape they are in; perfringens spores would survive.

The “Fourth substitute” is too long to quote here. In summary, flour and water are boiled to the consistency of treacle, “saturate it with fixed air” when cold. Put in large bottles or narrow mouthed jars covered loosely paper upon which a slate or weighted board is placed. Put the vessel in a "situation where the thermometer will stand from 70 deg. to 80 deg. “In about two days, such a degree of fermentation will
have taken place as to give the mixture the appearance of yeast.” Directions continue for mixing dough, forming loaves, and baking. The term “salt-rising bread” or any equivalent does not appear.

“The Practical Housekeeper” edited by a Mrs. Ellet and published in 1867 by W.A.Townsend: New York on p.465 has directions “To Make Excellent Bread Without Yeast”. The prescription clearly describes the salt-rising bread process though, again, that term is not used.

No. I have not consulted the OED or similar compendia since they would most likely be superficial on SRB as they are on many topics.

I have been looking for the SRB origin for 40 years or more. The search caused my accumulation of ancient “receipt” books. But, none has any implication for the source of the recipes they present nor their evolution.

I am still looking!

[slight hijack]
Have you made the 1831 "sixth substitute"bread ?
If so, how does it taste ?
[/slight hijack]

Thanks for the reply. Sorry if I sounded petulant.

While you may think that the OED and other etymological sources won’t help, they may point you in a different direction. This could help your search.

For instance, the source of the (1833) cite for the actual term “salt rising” was Catharine Parr Traill. In her book Backwoods of Canada she mentions “hop rising” and “salt rising” bread. Have you run into the hop-rising bread in your early receipts?

By looking in my Mathews, Dictionary of Americanisms he also quotes her from her book as saying “The salt-rising makes beautiful bread to look at, being far whiter and firmer than the hop-yeast bread.”

In reading about her life, she pretty obviously had not heard of the term “salt-rising” bread in England. She first encountered it in Upper Canada.

I found a link on the web which suggested that a woman who lived in Cleveland, Ohio learned about this method of making bread from a trip back to New York in the mid-1820’s. It, unfortunately wasn’t written at the time.

I’ll try to find more info later. Interesting subject. (to those of us who cook).

No. I have not made the “Sixth substitute” bread. I have devised a reliable method for producing SRB and not really interested in experimenting with historical recipes. There are many; a career might be constructed on testing them and contrasting the products.

As for hop yeast, a recipe is presented in “Dr. Chase’s Recipes for Everybody; An Invaluable Collection of About Eight Hundred Practical Recipes” published in 1872 by R.A.Beal: Ann Arbor, MI.

"Hop Yeast - Hops, 1 oz.; water, 3 pts.;flour, 1 tea-cup; brown sugar, 1 tablespoon; salt, 1 teaspoon; brewer’s or baker’s yeast, 1 gill.

"Boil the hops twenty minutes in the water, strain into a jar, and stir in the flour, sugar, and salt, and when a little cool, add the yeast, and after four or five hours cover up, and stand in a cool place or one the ice for use.

"The above makes a good family yeast, but the following is the regular baker’s yeast as they always keep the malt on hand:

"Baker’s Yeast - Hops, 20zs.; water, 1 gal.; wheat flour, 1/2 lb.; malt flour, 1 pt.; stock yeast, 1/2 pt.

"Boil the hops for thirty minutes in the water, strain, and let cool until you can well bear your hand in it; then stir in the flour and yeast; keep in a warm place until the fermentation is well underway, and then let it work in a cooler place six to eight hours, when it should be put in pint bottles about half full, and closely corked, and tied down. By keeping this in a very cool cellar, or ice-house, it will keep for months, fit for use. But as it is often troublesome to obtain yeast, to start with, I give you the “Distiller’s Jug Yeast” starting without yeast.

"Jug Yeast, Without Yeast to Start With. Hops, 1/2 lb.;water, 1 gal.;fine malt flour, 1/2 pt.; brown sugar, 1/2 lb.

“Boil the hops in the water until quite strong, strain, and stir in the malt flour; strain again through a coarse cloth, and boil again for ten minutes; when lukewarm stir in the sugar, and place in a jug, keeping it at the same temperature until it works over; then cork tight, and keep in a cold place.”

In Dr. Chase’s 1903 “Last and Complete Work” there are no recipes for hop yeast though there is a prescription for making vinegar with hop yeast as a component in the process.

Back to SRB: my best guess is that the process originated in the U.S. slave states where the Blacks made kenkey which is a fermented corn meal foodstuff common in West Africa. Corn meal is wetted with warm water and held in a warm place for a few hours to several days. The fermenting mass would be wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for several hours.

One can imagine that the paucity of banana leaves in the slave states induced use of pans and, ready availabilty of flour, salt, sugar, etc. would lead to kenkey variants eventuating in SRB. Our noble white savages, of the time, would have been reluctant to credit the slaves for SRB.

Don’t know when I last looked at Dr. Chase’s 1872 opus, however I am sure that I had not read the several newspaper clippings that some earlier owner had inserted.

In a column headed Domestic Receipts, I read:
"To Make Yeast without Yeast - The following receipt, which we believe first appeared in Life Illustrated, has been tested and highly approved in the culinary department of our family.
“For some time past I have eaten a very excellent bread raised with yeast in the following manner: Take as much pulverized saleratus as will lay on a dime, the same quantity of salt, and a teaspoonful of sugar. On these three articles pour a pint of boiling water. When sufficiently cool, so as not to change the nature of the flour, stir in as much as will make a stiff batter. The vessel containing this batter must be placed into another vessel containing water quite warm, but not so hot as to cook the flour in the least, and the whole must be kept standing in a warm place until the batter nearly doubles in bulk, which will take about six hours. This yeast may then be added to flour enough to make two good-sized loaves of bread, mixed with warm water, and a tea-spoonful of salt, if liked, placed in the pans and left standing in a warm place a short time before baking.”

Of course, there is no date explicit. However, on the reverse are several paragraphs describing action in the Massachusetts Senate and House. On Friday, Feb. 6, “The House made another attempt to vote itself a supply of the American Almanac and Hale’s Debates for 1856, it was rejected, 155 to 130. (The house has probably wasted more than time enough, in considering this petty scheme of plunder, to pay for the books in question.)”

That it is the Mass. Senate &House becomes apparent in the Fe. 7 entry which notes that in the House: “The resolve in favor of constituting the Boston Daily Atlas and the Boston Daily Bee the official journals of the Commonwealth was taken up and gave rise to a long discussion on a variety of topics. It finally passed to a third reading.”

Now I must chase down Life Illustrated.