The recipe for Tomato Gravy on Salt Rising Bread can be found in Jenny and Susan's book.Likely a product of necessity, this unique bread is dense like a pound cake and rises in an almost magical way. No yeast or sourdough starter is involved. Cornmeal and flour do all the work. As pioneering Europeans discovered centuries ago, these grains have natural microbes all their own. When they're mixed with liquid and held to the right temperature, the microbes grow, generating enough gas to make a loaf of bread rise.
They also produce a noxious odor, one that led to the nickname "stinky bread," which many old folks use to this day. While the smell is tough at the outset, the final product is delicious and unique. In Salt Rising Bread, the book Jenny recently co-authored with longtime friend Susan Ray Brown, the taste is described as "if a delicately reared, unsweetened plain cake had had an affair with a Pont l’Eveque cheese.”
Since it's simple to make and tasty, it's no wonder salt risen bread was popular with mountaineers. While researching the baked good's origins, Jenny and Susan found recipes dating back to the 1700s, and all of the earliest originated in Appalachian states, both northern and southern.
Some people enjoy cream and brown sugar on the bread.
With westward expansion, this uniquely Appalachian creation spread, and later became an American dish, popular from New York to California. Nationwide, fans agreed that the bread was delicious, but they didn't agree on how it was best eaten, which leads us back to Pearl in the Pennsylvania mountains. In the below excerpt, she explained how her family preferred to eat salt rising bread, and Jenny and Susan generously share Pearl's time-tested recipe.
Now we'd love to hear from you—does this recipe look familiar? Have you ever had salt rising bread? And if so, what's your favorite way to eat it?
Like Pearl’s family, other lovers of salt rising bread describe their favorite way of eating this memorable bread, and most often it is as toast. In a survey of a hundred customers at the Rising Creek Bakery, we found that the overwhelming majority prefer to eat their salt rising bread toasted with butter. Another favorite way to eat it is as grilled cheese sandwiches, or as a fresh tomato-cucumber sandwich. Others enjoy their salt rising bread with coffee and sugar poured over it, while some like to eat it sliced with gravy on top.
Pearl Haines’s Salt Rising Bread Recipe
3 tsp. cornmeal
1 tsp. flour
1/8 tsp. baking soda
- Pour milk onto the dry ingredients and stir.
- Keep warm overnight until foamy.
- After the raisin’ has foamed and has a rotten cheese smell, in a medium-sized bowl add 2 cups of warm water to mixture, then enough our (about 1 1⁄2 cups) to make like a thin pancake batter. Stir and allow to rise again until it becomes foamy. This usually takes about 2 hours.
- Next, add 1 cup of warm water for each loaf of bread you want to make, up to 6 loaves (e.g., 6 cups of water makes 6 loaves of bread). Add enough our (20 cups for 6 loaves or about one 5 pound bag of our plus 1/3 bag of flour). Form into loaves and grease tops. Let loaves rise in greased pans for 1.5 to 3 hours – sometimes longer if it is a cold day.
- Bake at 350° F (180° C) for 35 to 45 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped.