Monday, April 9, 2012

Eating: Good Old Fashioned Chow

Salt-rising bread and tomato gravy. If you've ever had either one, that's about all that needs to be said. That and "Oh yum, where can I get some?" But for the uninitiated butterflies out there, let's explore this little bit of heaven from the kitchen.

Salt-rising bread doesn't get the usual high dome that most breads have.

Let's start with the bread. I was introduced to salt rising bread by my husband's family. Big 'Un's grandmother used to make this bread and there were plenty of wise cracks about salt rising bread. Mention it and they all rolled their eyes or backed away, saying things like "Oh my, not that." They told me that basically salt rising bread stinks. Like a baby diaper or old gym socks. Grandma apparently made salt rising bread very frequently and had people lined up outside her door wanting to buy it but, oddly, there was never any around my mother-in-law's home and I never had it until Grandma gave me a loaf- gave it to me, not my husband. But a funny thing happened when none of his siblings were around- my husband chowed down on MY loaf of bread. And yes, a distinctive odor floated up out of the toaster. Like the way, yes, the odor floats up out of a baby's diaper. When the starter for this bread is, um, starting is when you get a nice dose of the aroma but while toasting, the aroma is distinct but not over-powering. But the flavor.... oh so good. Nutty, cheesy, fine grained and dense... very delicious.

Sadly, Grandma passed away- at the fabulous age of 98- and the future of my salt-rising bread consumption looked bleak. Until Rising Creek Bakery & Cafe opened their cute little doors. This is the place that turned me on to Carrot Soup. Truthfully, I've never had anything from this bakery that wasn't divine (oh the Turkey & Cranberry Sandwich!). If you're ever driving down I-79 South from Pittsburgh, just about to enter West Virginia, it's worth getting off at Mt Morris to grab a bite to eat. Anyway, now they are my Salt-Rising bread source. Last fall, Big 'Un and I snuck down to the bakery for breakfast one morning while Zippy was at a sleep-over. Tomato gravy over salt-rising bread was on the menu that morning and since I had never heard of tomato gravy, much less eaten it, and it came over salt-rising bread that was, naturally, what I had for breakfast.

Bread at Rising Creek, waiting for me. Image via Post-Gazette.

Salt-rising bread was apparently first made by settlers in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1800's. It is actually mentioned in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book The Little House in the Big Woods. I've seen a couple places trying to pass it off as an Amish bread and while I'm sure the Amish made/make this bread I wouldn't bet they invented it, mainly because it is fairly wide-spread through-out Appalachia. Today, salt-rising bread is called an artisan bread, but it was originally just bread- what you made with what you had in order to feed your family. Salt is not the ingredient that causes this yeast-free bread to rise but rather a fermentation process that uses naturally occurring bacteria. I heard it said that if you can't get this bread to rise, maybe your kitchen is too clean! Commercial yeast was not available until around 1860 or so. Don't worry, no one has ever been harmed by the bacteria in this bread, unless it is what has caused you to eat waaaaaay too much of it. Then you're just full, not harmed. Also, the salt content of this bread is the same as any bread. It is thought that warmed rock salt was used to keep the starter warm (hence the name) because it is very important to keep the temperature at the right spot for the dough to rise. I am not an expert on salt-rising bread, at least not in making it. I'm pretty close to a professional, however, when it comes to eating it. Click over to the SRB section of Rising Creek Bakery for information about the history of this neat bread as well as info on how to make it and how to order bread. Yes, the ladies at Rising Creek will mail bread to you, no matter where you live. You owe it to yourself to try it. This bread is best eaten toasted.


So, now, for the gravy. Delicious! Of course I went straight to my computer to search for Tomato Gravy recipes. The recipe below is one that I've cobbled together from the many that I've tried, though I think it's mostly a basic recipe. As with anything, there are variations galore, some fancy, some weird, but this is the way I generally make tomato gravy.

2-3 cloves of garlic (to your preferences but I  like 2 cloves)
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large tomatoes, chopped (medium coarse, not too small)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme


Saute the garlic and onions in the olive oil in a medium skillet for about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer on low for about 20 minutes. Stir every one in awhile.

Stir in the whipping cream, salt, red pepper, and thyme. Simmer another 5 minutes or so, until it thickens.

Cut a nice thick-ish slice of salt-rising bread and toast to a nice golden color. Oh that aroma- you'll come to love it. True confession time- I usually have two nice thick-ish slices. Lay your toast on a plate and spoon over a generous helping of tomato gravy. Arm yourself with a second fork to stab at people who are trying to steal your breakfast right off your plate. The gravy keeps well in the 'frig.

This came out smoother than normal. I generally like to chop the tomatoes
fairly coarsely so there are big pieces of tomato in the gravy.

I can't wait for the tomatoes to start coming out of the garden this summer so I can make this with garden-fresh, not store-fresh, tomatoes. Oh.......

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great one and I'll see you next time.

Today's butterfly pic ...

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