On a quest in Cooking 101 to uncover the truth about salt, we’ve explored what it is (Part 1); and its ancient (Part 2) and medieval (Part 3) history. Let’s take a very brief glance at how mankind regarded salt throughout a more recent time period. For a more detailed accounting of how difficult it was to obtain this precious mineral, read Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History, available at Barnes and Noble, 3600 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Santa Clara.
Only because it was so useful in cooking and in preserving food, until the 20th century salt was one of the prime movers of national economies and wars. Because there was no other means of preserving the precious commodities of food without which societies could not function, salt was sometimes considered to be more precious than the common currency of gold.
During many wars in American history, salt has played a major role. In the Revolutionary War, the British used Tories to intercept the rebels’ salt supply and destroy their ability to preserve food. During the War of 1812, salt brine was used to pay soldiers in the field, as the government was too poor to pay them with money. Before Lewis and Clark set out for the Louisiana Territory, President Jefferson spoke in his address to Congress about an immensely valuable mountain of salt supposed to lie near the Missouri River (it actually underlies much of the Appalachian Mountains).
During the American Civil War, the Union blockade interrupted the normal sources of salt for the Confederate states, and some southern states began a rationing process to ensure fair distribution. The county courts created salt lists of eligible families and the amounts of salt that they could receive. Widows of soldiers received a free ration. Other families were required to pay, although families of serving soldiers and widowed mothers of soldiers were given special consideration.
In more modern times, Mahatma Gandhi led 100,000 people on a march during which protesters made their own salt from the sea, which was illegal under British rule as it avoided paying the “salt tax”. This civil disobedience inspired millions of common people, and elevated the Indian independence movement from an elitist struggle to a national struggle.
Today salt is almost universally accessible, relatively cheap and often iodized. You can buy salt in your local supermarket, in gourmet niches in department stores, in food specialty shops, in stores which cater to customers wanting cookware – indeed, just about anywhere. Check out Sur La Table at 378 Santana Row (Suite 1030), Santa Clara, for a good selection of cooking salts; or browse through some of Cooking Examiner’s Favorite Markets from the list to the right of this post.
- Salt, Part 5: where to buy artisanal salts in Santa Clara County.
- Salt, Part 6: table salt – or not?
- Salt, Part 7: what to use in place of table salt