Salt Rising Bread II

Aha! I knew there had to be some kind of back woods edge to salt rising bread, that hill country delicacy I mentioned in a post last week. This highly unusual bread, as you may recall, is leavened with bacteria instead of yeast. Well it turns out the bacteria is nothing other than our old friend Clostridium perfringens, an anaerobic microbe responsible for at least 10,000 incidents of food poisoning every year. I thought that name sounded familiar (hat tip: Tim Coonan. Thank you, and please don’t tell my health inspector).

No wonder I’ve never seen Emeril make this on TV. Now you want to be sure you bake these loaves all the way through friends, you don’t want grandma pushing away from the table with a case of pig-bel disease.

Actually, that would be a rarity, but not at all unheard of with this type of food pathogen. It all depends on the strain you end up cultivating, and since you never know which one that might be (hell, I read one obscure chat room post by some old guy saying he used a piece of tree bark to start fermentation), you’re better off taking the safe road and mixing up a nice batch of parker house rolls.

Of course I’m as curious as the next guy about this bread. If you bake it properly you’ll kill off all the bacteria just like you kill off yeast with a normal bread. And it is true that Clostridium perfringens is one of the most common food pathogens around. There’s probably some in your refrigerator and on your countertops right now (there’s certainly some on your floors). But there’s a big difference between consuming a few incidental microbes and intentionally growing billions of them in your kitchen (about 24 hours on the toilet, typically).

So my advice, especially if you have young children around your house like I do, leave salt rising bread to the pros. Like white lightnin’, it’s a piece of hill country exotica better left on the mountain.

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