Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Salem Biscuits

Lincoln arrived in New Salem, Illinois in early summer 1831. Denton Offutt, another newcomer to the area, hired him to run a small store and help with the grist mill, powered by the Sangamon River.

In March 1832, Lincoln declared his candidacy for representative to the Illinois General Assembly. In his “Communication to the People of Sangamo County” he addressed the need for “internal improvements” -- roads, cleared waterways and “rail roads.” He drew upon the year’s experiences, making a comprehensive analysis of the situation. “I have given as particular attention to the state of the water in this river, as any other person in the country.” Lincoln, 23 years old, was poised for the possibility of loss. “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. . . I have no other so great as to be esteemed by my fellow men . . . I am young and unknown to many of you. . . . if the good people in their wisdom shall see fit to keep me in the background, I have been too familiar with disappointments to be very much chagrined.” Losing this election, he was elected for the next term in 1834.

Offutt ground both corn and wheat at the mill. As pioneering settlements became villages and towns, farmers began growing more wheat. Wheat breads, such as biscuits, took their place on tables where just a few year earlier cornmeal was the only bread ingredient. “Saleratus” is an early form of baking soda and worked with the sour milk to make a light, chewy and delicious biscuit.

Saleratus [baking soda] Biscuit
2 teaspoons vinegar
2/3 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine vinegar with milk, stir and set aside to sour, about 5 minutes. Mix the flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Add butter to boiling water to melt and then stir into the flour mixture. Then add the sour milk. Stir with a fork and then knead briefly. You may need to add a bit more milk or flour to make a dough that is firm enough to work and not sticky. Break off pieces about an inch in diameter. Place on lightly greased baking sheets and bake until browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi, do you think settlers originally would use white or wheat bread in this recipe?

  2. Good question, Pioneering flour was milled differently than our flours as it was not divided into different types. You took your wheat to the mill and they ground it and returned it to you. In that sense it was "whole wheat." The next part of the handling of the flour would be the sifting. Some pioneering recollections talk about stretching a very fine piece of fabric on a frame and using that to sift the flour. How much of the "wholeness" of the flour that was removed depended on how fine the cloth was. I generally use white, unbleached flour in making recipes. Some others like to mix a bit of whole wheat into the white, but not as much as totally using our whole wheat flour. But, then, we might have had some hurried pioneers who didn't want to take the time to sift. Hope this helps.