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Two Women Who Convinced Me to Make My Own Bread


They Made Bread and History

Jenny Wade

I was twelve years old and taking a school field trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the largest battle of the American Civil War as well as the largest battle ever fought in North America, took place. Little did I know that this particular trip would have a tremendous impact on my young life and set things into motion that my future self would be doing on a regular basis. The tour guide led us to a home that was still intact from the civil war and was held as a shrine to the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. That civilian was a young 20-year-old woman named Jennie Wade.

Jennie Wade
 was a determined young woman who was afraid of nothing. When there was a job to do, or someone needed help, she was the first one with her sleeves rolled up. Her sister had just given birth, so she was in Gettysburg caring for her sister and the new baby while still finding the time to bake bread all day for the soldiers and nurses.

On July 3, 1863, the day began very quietly, with nothing but silence coming from the battlefield. But as the day wore on, there began to be more gunshots once again and many civilians hid in their cellars or shelters. But instead of hiding, Jennie decided to keep baking bread and biscuits for the soldiers. It was on that day that Jennie was kneading dough in the kitchen when a rifle bullet pierced two doors and claimed her life.

jennie-wade-house copyI remember that tour as we walked into the kitchen and saw where she had stood and made bread, and I witnessed the many bullet holes in the walls and doors and the bloodstains that had remained. It was just an old story to my schoolmates around me, but it stirred something inside of me. One of the virtues I most value is courage, and Jennie had much of it.  I wanted to be courageous, too, and to make my life count for something. Jennie demonstrated that by doing something as simple as making bread for people in need. I went to the gift shop and spent all the money I had on a Jennie Wade doll and took her home with me. I placed her on my dresser and looked at her every day - and I still have that doll to this day.

If you want a more interesting life then learn something new.

Sally Lunn

A few days later, I found an old recipe and a story about Sally Lunn. The story of Sally Lunn is told in many different ways, but legend has it that a woman named Solange Luyon went to Bath, England, in 1680 after escaping persecution in France. She worked in the kitchen making buttery brioche bread and was selling it in the streets, known in those days as Lilliput Alley. But Solange – who, due to her colleagues' unfamiliarity with French pronunciation, became known as Sally Lunn. It seems that customers were soon visiting the Lilliput Alley bakery specifically requesting the Sally Lunn bread, and today Sally’s bread has earned legendary status around the world.

Intrigued by Sally and her bread, I told my mom I was going to make some. My mom was not a bread baker but she encouraged me to try it even though she had never made it herself. I shall never forget when I pulled that successful loaf of bread from the oven. At 12 years old this felt like a big deal and I had done it all by myself. It made me feel proud, and maybe not courageous, but it was a beginning for me. I found joy in food and recipes and it planted a seed that changed my young life. From that day to this, I have learned much about making bread and found many years later how beneficial using sourdough cultures are to rise my bread. I make bread every week and I have a young 20-year-old woman who gave her life making bread for soldiers to thank for this. None of these foods I talk about are just food to me but rather stories and lessons that have been weaved into my life since I was young. Walking in the footsteps of those who had gone before me, I found guidance that felt like little bread crumbs to follow, leading me to the life I have now.

It's not the bread, it's what we've done to the bread.


Much is being said about how bad bread is for you, but for generations it has sustained many. This led me to discover that it was never the bread, but rather what we have done to the bread that is causing harm to so many individuals. Our modern-day wheat is loaded with chemicals and has been genetically modified. We now use different kinds of yeast to rise our bread instead of bacteria cultures which change the structure of the bread itself - not to mention what has happened to our guts that are largely devoid of the bacteria they need to help us process our food. We have lost our way in all of this and blamed the bread when the bread is just a symptom or sign that we need to rethink all we are doing and eating. I have written another blog about this in more detail, Can Sourdough Change the Gluten-Free Diet, but I hope this will enlighten you and allow you to begin looking at your life and your food differently. We have a contract in this life with food and there are signs all around us, lessons to be learned, and delicious food to make, eat, and treasure.

I recreated Sally Lunn's bread and made them into rolls and wanted to share the recipe with you. These are special sourdough rolls I make for family and company. The process I use is a little different from other recipes since I use a sourdough culture. During Sally's era, there were no instant yeasts, they only used cultures to rise the bread. All the recipes using her name use instant yeast so I made my own version. Instant yeasts are hard on you and sourdough's slow rise culture is the way to go. I'm sure Sally would agree!  The slower and longer rise allows the bread to be infused with even more good bacteria, making the bread become more digestible and delicious. I hope you enjoy it and will never look at making bread the same way again because you never know when it could change a life.

“I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice-and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.” From the book, Sourdough by ~ Robin Sloan

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Sally Lunn Sourdough Rolls

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34 Responses to "Two Women Who Convinced Me to Make My Own Bread"
  1. I make a soaked whole wheat bread weekly. I soak it with kefir and then add some yeast. I have tried sourdough but I am not good at keeping up with the feeding and it always ends up to sour, so I went this route and I like it very much. I was wondering if you had any suggestions or thoughts.

  2. Donna, love your blog! I have started my cultured food journey and am really enjoying the loving guidance you give on your site. In your article, you make a small misstatement about wheat. You mention that wheat has been genetically modified. In fact, wheat has not yet been approved to be grown from genetically modified seed, although they are working on it, and there has been some cross contamination from test fields occurring. Wheat has, however, been hybridized over the centuries, so that the wheat we eat today is not the same as the ancient grain our ancestors ate. Genetic modification and hybridization are two different things. Here is a good link to research what foods are currently genetically modified.

  3. I have a sourdough starter that is supposed to be fed 1 cup each of flour, sugar and milk. It works well but I was wondering if I could leave out the sugar and replace the milk with water. I noticed your starter is fed only water and flour.

  4. Hi Donna,
    I received my starter culture yesterday. I used spelt flour from a bin at Whole Foods to feed it. I did that twice already. I bought spelt flour because I saw it on your recipe for sourdough bread. Now upon further reading I am worried I ruined the starter. I could not find white whole wheat four, that is why I bought the spelt, I did not realize until now that the spelt was part of a recipe for bread, not for the starter. Did I ruin it? 🙁
    Lori Marschhauser

      • Hi Donna,
        I have another question. When my starter is ready and I take out a cup to make bread, so I just place the leftover in the fridge then? Or do I replace with one cup of water and one cup of flour and place in fridge (assuming it will be about a week before I bake again). Or do I replace with a cup of water and a cup of flour and let it sit out again until bubbling, then place in the fridge?

  5. I’ve been feeding my sourdough with white flour and water. Should I be using white wheat flour to feed. I do use white wheat when I make the bread. Also, is there a reason for baking the bread at such a high temperature? I’ve been making wheat bread for years with regular yeast and I always bake it at 350 for 30 minutes. Is the higher temp. necessary for some reason?

    • You don’t need to use white wheat flour regular flour is fine. You can try lowering the temperature but often the middle doesn’t cook through on sourdough bread.

  6. I’ve been feeding my sourdough with white flour and water. Should I be using white wheat flour to feed. I do use white wheat when I make the bread.

  7. Forgive me but have another question. You do not indicate what time of day you usually begin recipe and time frame when you place it in the refrigerator. What is the time frame for when you remove it from the refrigerator and place on counter? It would help me to understand the approximate times of day so could understand how much time is being allowed for these resting times and times of day to begin and end. I hope you understand what I am trying to determine!

    • It really doesn’t matter but I usually start it in the morning and let it rise on the first rise for about 5 hours or until double, then I punch it down stick it in the pan and let it slow rise in the fridge over night but if it goes longer than that in the fridge its ok.

      • Thank you for your reply about the dates. Understanding helps (!). Regarding the question about the bread, it did seem possible if you started very early and the rise took the lesser time that it could be in the refrigerator a very long time. Wasn’t quite sure how workable that was because in my past bread making days I never used any recipes for putting in refrigerator for a second rise. Thank you for helping me understand that a bit more as well. You are a Jewel! Have been working on incorporating many of your cultured foods.

  8. Thank you for sharing a wonderful story! I have always loved good bread and wondered why so many people are unable to tolerate it. I found that even many grains that are non-GMO are so hybridized they bear little genetic resemblance to grains our ancestors ate. To avoid these modern grains, I grind organic Spelt grain for breadmaking. My friends who normally cannot tolerate gluten are able to enjoy my Spelt bread with no ill effects. Spelt has a fresh nutty flavor that makes a delicious bread. I use Kamut for pasta, as well as grinding it with organic white corn for cornbread. The Kamut makes a smoother pasta than Spelt and it has a buttery taste that is perfect for cornbread and pasta.

  9. Hi Donna, you replied to someone regarding sprouted flours not rising as well. My eyes bugged out at that. No wonder I don’t get the rise I expect! That’s an exciting detail and so I will reserve my sprouted wheat for other projects……..although, the sourdough culture seems to be very useful for so many things.

  10. I need a tissue after reading that! Thank you for sharing. I passed it on to my bread-baking, Marine war veteran daughter. It’ll mean a lot to her as well. 🙂


  12. Hi Donna, as always your story is very reflective of the beautiful lady you are.!
    I look forward to your newsletters and spread the word to my friends, I have lost count of the many times I have shared my kefir and I talk to them about improving their lives with fermented foods. So, a big thank you because you share your experience in such a way that we can relate to.
    I was able to purchase some sprouted rye flour recently, would that be too heavy for this recipe..?
    Many thanks for your great work and love of food. Delwyn

    • You don’t use sprouted flour for sourdough regular rye flour is what you would use so the starter can break it down. Sprouted is already broken down and so it doesn’t rise as well.

  13. Donna, Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! Looking forward to ordering your starter and making some life making bread.

  14. I love your blog. I did not like this post for a variety of reasons though the story is not one of them…

    You said: “Our modern day wheat is loaded with chemicals and has been genetically modified.” yet your recipe calls for WHITE WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR.. this is modern day wheat (all those nasty chemicals and genetic modifications) + the process of chemical bleaching the flour to be white… seriously?

    You said: “We now use different kinds of yeast to rise our bread instead of bacteria cultures” your sourdough starter is a mix of both yeasts and bacteria of unknown local origin….so I do not think the above is a valid point as bread being bad.

    Baking bread at 400°F for 35- 40 minutes effectively KILLS all those yeasts and bacteria. Some might…might survive in the center of the loaf.

    The real criminal here is wheat itself..modern day wheat…It is only now where some farmers are taking a chance on doing heirloom varieties (Emmer, Einkorn) which are DIPLOID in nature and less harmful for us…

    My rant is done carry on….

    • This is the white wheat that I use called Prairie Gold Wheat Montana and is Certified Chemical Free and here it explains in the facts how it is made.
      “Our Certified Chemical Free wheat is grown conventionally using a natural nitrogen fertilizer. We then have an independent lab test the final harvested wheat for any chemical residue, finding none, they certify the wheat as being Chemical Free. Our Organic wheat is grown on land certified by the State of Montana and does not have any type of fertilizer or other chemicals used. The State of Montana inspects our farm, bins, warehouse, equipment, packaging, etc. and then give it the Certified Organic label.” http://www.wheatmontana.com/faqs.php

      Using a sourdough culture with wild yeasts is very very different that instant yeast that often can be harmful but rather it is what the bacteria in the sourdough culture does to the bread before it is baked that is important. The good bacteria breaks it down and removes many of inhibitors so its not the probiotics in the bread that survive that is so important but rather how it transforms the bread before it is bake and makes it digestible to the body.

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