Food - Drink
The Salty Bread That Fended Off Food Poisoning For American Pioneers
By NICO DANILOVICH
When American pioneers migrated westward towards the Appalachian Mountains, supplies had to remain light, so instead of maintaining a bread starter, they relied on salt-rising bread. Dating back to 1778 in West Virginia, salt-rising bread didn’t require yeast, or even salt, but instead used bacteria that had to be killed by the baking process.
Settlers cultivated microbes using cornmeal or potatoes, and leavened bread using the hydrogen the bacteria produced. This bacteria, Clostridium perfringens, has strains that cause diarrhea and gangrene, but baking the bread killed the bacteria, meaning settlers had bread that rose without too many ingredients, or a risk of food poisoning.
Salt-rising bread only took a day or so to prepare, and resulted in a dense but tender loaf that smelled of cultured cheese and had a sweet, savory, and slightly sour flavor. Theories abound as to the bread’s name; some think the bread was once stored in salt barrels, while others believe that "salt" refers to the baking soda used in the recipe.