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8 servings

You will need:

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1-teaspoon salt

1-teaspoon baking powder

1-teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Flour for kneading

Butter for greasing skillet


Measuring cups and spoons

Mixing bowl

Wooden spoon

Table fork

Wooden or plastic board

9-inch cast-iron skillet

2 pot-holders

What to do:

      1.     Preheat oven to 400F.

2.     Mix all the dry ingredients together in bowl.

3.     Add butter and cut into flour mixture with fork until it looks grainy, like cornmeal.

4.     Stir in buttermilk.

5.     Sprinkle flour on board and knead dough a few times with your hands, folding, pulling, and shaping.

6.     Rub butter along sides and bottom of skillet.

7.     Place dough in skillet and push it to fill the pan.

8.     Place skillet in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the surface of the bread has risen and is light brown in color. Have an adult lift the very hot skillet from oven with pot-holders and turn bread out of pan onto board. It will look like a giant biscuit.

9.     Slice in wedge-shapes and serve with butter.


Ingredients: Flour in pioneer days was not bleached white like the all-purpose flour we have today. The chemical bleaching technique was not invented until the early 1900s. The overlanders used one of three types of flour: shorts, middlings, or superfine. The first two were not favorites because they contained the roughest part of the bran and wheat germ. Superfine flour was ground between two stones and then sifted to get out the coarse parts of the grain. It was closest to what we have today. 

     Saleratus was used instead of baking soda and baking powder. When the overlanders ran out of the commercial saleratus (sodium bicarbonate), they gathered it at the banks of natural soda springs found by the Sweetwater River in Wyoming and Idaho. Pieces were broken off the dried, white, crusty beds and mixed into the batter to make the bread rise. 

    These pioneers discovered a shortcut to making butter without using their butter churns. A can filled with cream was hung from the back of the wagon. The bumpy ride shook the can so hard that large balls of butter formed. The buttermilk (milk that is left after butter is churned) was separated from the butter balls and put in this recipe. 

Equipment: A spider or Dutch oven was used to cook this bread. The dough was often kneaded right inside the cooking pan. The skillet or Dutch oven was then placed on the fire and hot coals were placed on its lid. The cook had to be careful not to get the fire too hot or the bread would burn on the outside and be raw in the middle.                          

 Recipe and image from Skillet Bread, Sourdough, and Vinegar Pie: Cooking in Pioneer Days 

Copyright 2003 by Loretta Frances Ichord 

Illustrations copyright 2003 by Jan Davey Ellis 

Published by Millbrook Press and reproduced with permission

All rights reserved