Monday, September 22, 2014


With their ox teams, the settlers would go to Manti to gather saleratus. That to be used for bread-making was carefully gathered with a spoon and that to be used for the washing was gathered with a shovel. In the making of bread, water was poured on about a cupful of saleratus, and when settled and clear, the top would be poured off and combined with buttermilk, then used for leavening bread. They also at this time made Salt Rising Bread and later the yeast from the home-made beer was used for the leavening. A beverage known as Brigham     Tea, made from a brush called Mountain Rush, was widely used with   or
    without milk or sweeten­ing. This tea was also used for medical purposes.

History of Mt. Pleasant by Hilda Madsen Longsdorf page 56

Wool was washed in two or three warm waters, softened with saleratus, and made white, fluffy and beautiful. Much was also washed and cleaned in the warm springs known as Crystal Springs, south of Manti, which is a soft, warm water, where it was made soft, clean and lovely.

Women also carded the wool with hand cards, spun it into yarn on home-made spinning wheels, and on home-made looms they wove it into cloth and made it into clothing. Some still re­member the never-ending irritations caused by home-spun under­wear.

History of  Mt. Pleasant by HML page283

Saleratus was a chalk-like powder used as a chemical leavener to produce carbon dioxide gas in dough.

 Saleratus was a naturally occurring mineral found in the western United States, especially in areas that were extremely high in alkaline. This bubbly white crust would be collected by pioneer women and used to leaven the biscuits and breads they baked in their dutch ovens. To make it even more confusing, this “new” product which we call baking soda today was referred to as saleratus as well after its introduction in 1860 and for some time afterwards. Today, some people still call baking soda biscuits “saleratus biscuits.” The proportions of the first saleratus and the later baking soda version of saleratus were slightly different: about 1 ¼ tsp. of baking soda to 1 tsp. of saleratus.


In the milling of the wheat, the grinding apparatus consisted of two circular stones fitted together. They were smooth on one side, and were called the upper and lower or nether millstone. which were held together with a perpendicular shaft. The upper stone was turned round and round upon the under one by means of the crank. The lower stone was stationary. A round hole in the upper one admitted a quart or two of grain at a time. As the stone evolved this would gravitate down and out from between the stones and during the slow movement it would be ground into more or less fineness. This then was bolted or sieved through a thin cloth, separating the flour from the coarse particles and bran.

This flour was made into dough and leavened with beer yeast, sour dough kept from the last baking, salt rising made from shorts and salt water set to rise, or saleratus. This last preparation was made by putting a certain amount of saleratus in a vessel and a quantity of water, according to the amount being made, stirring well. and allowing to settle until perfectly clear. This liquid was used to leaven biscuit dough and could be kept on hand some time. About the only saleratus beds to be found in this part of the state or nearest here, were down a little south of Manti.

History of Mt. Pleasant pp 284-285  HML

Plain But Wholesome: Adventures in Mormon Pioneer Food: Saleratus

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Patty Sessions was headed out of Nauvoo in 1846. So was her husband's second wife, Lovina. What we know about the circumstances comes from Patty's diary, so perhaps the facts are a little slanted. The Sessions's were not long on the trail before tensions between the two sister wives made life difficult, with all three sharing a tent. According to Patty, Lovina refused to help with camp chores such as cooking and laundry. She told Br. Sessions lies about Patty. Br. Sessions apparently came to feel that Patty was at fault. To demonstrate his condemnation of her, Br. Sessions took away Patty's stores of saleratus and locked it up. Patty was about 45 years old at the time.

Saleratus is a chemical compound (potassium carbonate) which naturally weeps from the ground as mineral-bearing water evaporates. Coming from Latin roots,sal aeratus means aerated salt, referring to its ability to produce carbon dioxide when mixed with another acidic food element such as vinegar or tartaric acid (cream of tartar). It is used instead of soda to make biscuits. Pioneers on the trail often gathered saleratus when they found it, for example near Independence Rock in Wyoming. It is also reported to occur on the shores of the Great Salt Lake. I believe I have seen some such deposits in the past.

In Utah, pioneer settlers continued to use saleratus to leaven their biscuits. Livvy Olsen, a Danish immigrant growing up near Manti, Utah in the 1860s, remembered collecting saleratus by the wagon load near the San Pitch river.

So today I went out to see if I could find some saleratus. South of Manti a mile or so is "Manti Meadows", a property managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Most people go there to hunt ducks and pheasants. From the road, I could see bright white patches in the clay soil. We (my good wife sometimes shares my food adventures) walked a half-mile or so from the parking area, and spotted a patch of what we thought was saleratus. It crusted over the ground, with a slightly crystalline appearance, almost like salt. It seemed to be frozen in a bubbly foam. The crust was a quarter- to half-inch thick over the ground. I whipped out a small container of vinegar I had brought. A little saleratus in my palm foamed and fizzed when I poured vinegar on it. We had struck it rich!

Last night it rained considerably, so the deposits were softer than normal, and we had to be careful in collecting them so they wouldn't crumble. I imagine that if we had a dry spell, the saleratus would be more crusted and stable. Also with the rain, some sandy silt came up with the saleratus.

From what I have read, some pioneers dissolved the saleratus in a little water, and let the silt settle to the bottom. The mineral-bearing water could then be used to mix biscuits. I haven't tried it yet, but I'll let you know how it turns out. More than anything it makes me think we don't really know much about pioneer cooking, if we've never used saleratus before.

The above story is courtesy of Brock Cheney, a historian, primarily focused on Utah and Mormon themes in the 19th century. His recent work has centered on foodways among Mormon pioneers. His book on the subject, Plain But Wholesome is due out in the spring of 2011. He is also working on a companion volume of recipes.

You can contact Brock by writing to

No comments:

Genealogy Quote

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from."

~Alex Haley

L.D.S. Temple

L.D.S. Temple
Manti Temple