Appalachian Food

Bum Bread

light bread on cutting board

bum bread noun
1980 Smokies Heritage 63 And by and by, storekeepers started selling loaves of white bread, too. Folks around here called it “bum bread.” Dad said it was because people would keep a slice or two to give out when folks knocked on the door asking for food. 1997 Montgomery Coll. = apparently a local term used in the Sugarlands (TN) area (Cardwell).

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English


I’ve never heard white bread called bum bread. Pap didn’t care much for it and often said it wasn’t fit to eat. I guess its what you grow up on because I love light bread.

The dictionary entry reminds me of a song the girls learned in college “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum” written by Harry McClintock who also wrote “Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

The girls went around singing “Hallelujah, I’m a Bum” after they learned it and eventually they recorded it for Pap’s annual Christmas dvd.

Click the link below to hear the song.

Hallelujah, I’m a Bum


canning jars full of food

Come cook with me!

Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, August 23 – Saturday, August 29, 2020
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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  • Reply
    March 7, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    My neighbors here in Oconee County SC call it “loaf bread”.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2020 at 3:58 pm

      Phil-we call it loaf bread sometimes too 🙂

  • Reply
    b, Ruth
    March 7, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    When I was a young girl, one Halloween I was met with a challenge to go to this one house that some said was a very mean old, old woman…Not to be teased or outdone…I went knocked on the door and in a few minutes she came to the door. “Trick or Treat I said as I backed off her stoop…”I don’t have no candy…all I got left is this here piece of bread as she dropped it in my sack! One of the kids said that it was bum bread…I didn’t know what that was, I was very naive back in the forties…Anyhow, I felt really back as I thought all that old lady had left was a piece of bread and that she might have needed it and maybe went hungry…Some kids had already marked up her house (tricked) maybe because she gave them a piece of light bread…When I told my Mom and Dad…they said they never heard of bum bread called light bread …either/or…sooo, maybe it was a regional thing.
    Love this post Tipper…

  • Reply
    March 5, 2020 at 1:47 pm

    My mama loved light bread. yep in her childhood it was a luxury. My gramdma mulligan would laugh at her: “eatin that GOOEY bread!” Grandma made biscuits every day of her life; people would make excuses to visit her old kichen at lunchtime. “dinnertime” !!! we called it. i got so confused when i moved to Oregon as a young woman. Once i was invited to dinner. i shocked em by showin up 6 hours early. i am serious.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    March 2, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    Never heard the expression “bum bread”. But I do remember hearing my mother singing “Hallelujah I’m a bum when I was a kid back in the ’40’s.

  • Reply
    Craig Lawhorne
    March 2, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    I’m told that my great-grandfather wouldn’t eat light bread; he stated that there was nothing to it, and he “might as well lay down and let the sun shine in his mouth as to eat it.”

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    March 2, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    I never heard it called bum bread we called it light read, sure would love to have some light bread and jelly. We eat oatmeal grain bread now. I married a Texan he changed my mountain food like pork bacon , pure lard for my biscuit Making . Mexican foods are good but I miss my Tatar’s and Pinto bean and fresh poke salad most of all my hog meat. I now am living in Texas and sure Miss my mountains home in NC

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    March 2, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    I can’t remember the first time I had ‘light bread’, but Mama fixed her “squirrel huntin’ boys” biscuits and, or cornbread 3 times a day. Matter of fact, I don’t remember her ever being out of the kitchen, except on Saturdays to wash our clothes. Me and Harold was always there and we carried the clothes for our Mama because she couldn’t walk good.

    We had a Wringer-type washing machine, and ole Harold got caught in the rollers one time and couldn’t get free. Thankfully Mama was close by and she released him. The Machine had wound Harold up nearly to his armpit and was just spinning. When he got loose, he got a Good Talking to. Kids got to learn (as Jim’s Dad would say. ) His arm was blue, but Mama rubbed something on it and it was alright in a few days. …Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 2, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Never heard of bum bread, we just called or light bread or white bread. Also came to learn that it has no nutritional value.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Never heard of lite bread or bum bread but have eaten white bread all my life. I am sure my parents and grandparents didn’t have lite bread when they were growing up as they had biscuits and cornbread. I did enjoy the girls singing.

  • Reply
    March 2, 2020 at 11:17 am

    I try to get the 8 grain bread for light bread. Dad and others I knew loved the light bread because they had grown up in a time when folks had large families, and light bread considered a luxury. My sis looked like Little Miss Sunbeam, and my parents almost entered her in a contest that was running. Light bread was always in our home. One could get what they called a short loaf or a long loaf at that time. Light bread was never referred to as Bum bread that I recall. No pun intended, but light bread did much to lighten the load of the housewife.
    I recall once staying with relatives in the country. A man showed up with a weathered hat and old clothes asking for a meal. My Aunt gave him a heaping plate of country food, and he sat on the porch swing to eat. She took the plate and silverware in and poured boiling hot water over them after he left. I wondered why he was so far out in the country begging, but I suppose maybe he received better meals and a warmer reception out among the country folk. Back then you did not hear the common word “homeless.” I am sure there were many homeless or maybe just “wanderers” among the hobos who used to catch the trains from one place to another. Also, not on the subject at al, but l I remember the carnivals that would set up through the Summer. Sometimes the workers could be spotted bathing in the creeks near where they set up. Life is all different now, as nobody would answer the door to somebody who showed up in dirty clothes and a weather beaten hat. Instead they drop their money in a safe distance away where they never see who they are helping.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    March 2, 2020 at 10:57 am

    We eat whole wheat light bread because if my wife made our own, we would gain at least 50 pounds each. It is good that the stuff is not very tasty. We had a bread machine for about a month and then said we had to stop using it. we were eating chunks at every meal with jelly, honey, butter, plain.

    When I first read the article about bum bread I thought the shops were selling stale bread to give to the hobos and the I reread and there is no mention of stale bread.

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    March 2, 2020 at 10:16 am

    I call it light bread, even homemade. It is not quick bread like cornbread or biscuits. I grew up in a part of southern Ohio that is very southern and in the hills. Now I live in northern Ohio. If I say light bread people have no clue. I often tell people I speak northern Ohio as a second language.

    I grew up hearing the bum song. I enjoyed hearing it in in its entirety today. Good job girls! Thank you.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 2, 2020 at 9:12 am

    I’ve never heard it called bum bread. We called it light bread. We never ate it until I was in my teens. I would envy the other kids at school with their light bread and bologny while I sat there eating my split biscuits with apple butter. But they were not the ultimate. To eat in the lunchroom meant life at its finest.
    Now my life has made a 180. Factory food no longer appeals to me. Give me the apple butter biscuits. Or home made yeast bread. And let’s not forget cornbread.
    Up until last year I was buying two pound loaves of store brand light bread at Ingles but I never tasted it no. You see, it was dog bread. The neighbor’s beagle Poop Dog would come to my house begging and it was easy to fix for him. Tear it in pieces and soak it in milk was the recipe. He loved it!
    Then one day I saw him lying in the yard. I thought he was sleeping in the sun as dogs are apt to do. But after a couple of hours he hadn’t moved. Further investigation revealed he was dead. There was nothing apparent to show the cause of his demise. Was it the Ingles brand light bread? That would be mere speculation.

    • Reply
      March 2, 2020 at 10:26 am

      Sad for loss of neighbor’s dog, but loved speculating if bread was the cause!!! In the country (upstate SC), cause of death of dogs was someone shooting a roaming dog.

  • Reply
    Jack Yates (AKA Howland)
    March 2, 2020 at 8:57 am

    ♫ I went to a house and I asked for some bread.
    The lady said “Bum-bum, the baker is dead….♪♫

  • Reply
    aw griff
    March 2, 2020 at 8:28 am

    Nope, never heard lite bread called bum bread. When I was growing up everbody didn’t have white bread or if they had it they were saving of it. I never had a piece of lite bread at my Papaw Lewis’s house. He ran a grader for the county and the bread was saved for his dinner. If a bum came to their house he would have got a biscuit or a piece of cornbread.
    Spellcheck doesn’t like the word everbody but likes everybody.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      March 2, 2020 at 9:52 am

      You can add words to the dictionary your spell checker uses and it will leave you alone. It don’t know half the words I use. Everbody was one. Not now!

      • Reply
        aw griff
        March 2, 2020 at 10:48 am

        Thanks ED.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 2, 2020 at 8:10 am

    I’m with you Tipper. It is “light bread” to me, all I ever heard it called except maybe a few times “store-bought” bread. I’m thinking the “light bread” term came from the KJV where the children of Israel said, “our souls loathes this light bread”; that is, manna. But I think it was also used to mean white bread was ‘light’ on good stuff, or as is fashionable now ‘lite’. I expect that is why Pap thought so poorly of it.

    My father-in-law can recall the first time he ever tasted “light bread”. His Dad was working at a WPA quarry during the Depression and one evening brought home a loaf of white bread. There was only enough for each person to have one slice. He said he thought it was the best thing he had ever tasted.

    Being so far removed in time, we forget that wheat used to be grown locally and made into whole wheat bread; that is, unbleached. I expect that was very rare in the mountains of Appalachia though where good farmland was in short supply and corn would feed both stock and people. At one time the Great Valley of Virginia was wheat country. There is a whole untold story (as far as I know anyway) about wheat east of the Great Plains.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      March 2, 2020 at 11:18 am

      Ron. I suspect that’s right about not much wheat being raised in Appalachia but my Great Grandfather, who I barely remember, raised a small patch of wheat. My Mother has told me stories on him that he was a hard man. Being a Spanish American War veteran he drew a pension and had a big farm by Appalachian standards with a store and blacksmith shop, and a large two story farm house. I’ve been told that as his children (12) were old enough to work he bossed from riding his horse from field to field and doing very little work himself. What I’m finally getting to is all the wheat was for his biscuits and no one else got any.
      The farm is still in the family but divided into 3 farms.

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    March 2, 2020 at 7:39 am

    We also knew it as “lite-bread” which I assume is descriptive of the weight compared to the other bread of the day? We never heard or used the name “bum bread”. My Dad did not like it just as your Dad didn’t like it. Dad would say he had rather eat the inside of a hornet’s nest as that BLANK stuff. I guess over time he developed a taste for it because he quit making negative remarks about the bread.

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