Salt-Rising Bread (story and recipe)

Posted on December 18th, 2012 in Commentary,Recipes by EngineerBoy

Heaven-scented memories…

When I was a kid in the 1960’s in Southern California, we would buy loaves of Van De Kamp’s Salt Rising bread at the grocery store.  The whole family *loved* this bread, it smelled heavenly while it toasted, and tasted even better.  The ultimate was to pair it with Knott’s Berry Farm Boysenberry Preserves…yum!

We then moved to Texas, and found that the same bread was available here, too!  But, alas, after a couple of years all the Van De Kamp’s products disappeared from the shelves, including our beloved salt-rising bread.  This was the early 70’s, and over the next few years we would get our salt-rising fix by bringing home a bunch of loaves any time we traveled to California, which was usually once or twice a year.  We didn’t get to have it all the time, but it turned into a special thing since we only got it once in a while.

But then it disappeared in California as well, as Van De Kamps stopped producing salt-rising bread some time in the mid 70’s, then eventually went out of business completely.  And that was the last of the salt-rising bread for me, for the next 30 years, or so.  Then 5-6 years ago I got a wild hair to figure out how to make it myself, and turned to the internet.

What I found was that the King Arthur Flour Company actually sold a Salt-Rising Bread Yeast, and I ended up buying some and making salt-rising bread at home.  It was good, but it’s a two day process, so I only made it a few times.  Then King Arthur stopped selling the yeast, and as of today the page linked above contains this disclaimer:  “Sorry, this item is currently unavailable for purchase”.  It has said that for the last few years, so I’m not optimistic they are ever going to bring it back, so I figured I needed to figure out how to make it from scratch.

That led me to find some homemade recipes which turned out to be tricky to master, but after a couple of false starts and failed starters I eventually found a combination of ingredients and steps that work beautifully and predictably, and you can find that recipe below.

Here’s where the story gets a little more interesting.  My grandmother passed away earlier this year, and one of the things that came up as we sorted through memories of her were details I’d never heard before.  In the 1930’s, during the height of the Depression, she moved to Los Angeles seeking employment, and ended up working at the Van De Kamps Bakery store.  It was there that she met my grandfather, who was a regular customer, and they ended up getting married.

So not only does salt-rising bread thread through my earliest childhood memories, but in actuality the connection with Van De Kamp’s goes back even further, which makes it taste