Steeling myself, I leaned over and laid my own hand gently on the shroud. An earthenware saucer, holding a piece of bread and a heap of salt, sat on the dead woman’s chest and a small wooden bowl filled with dark liquid – wine?- sat beside her on the table. What with the good beeswax candle, the salt, and the bean-treim, it looked as though Hiram Crombie was trying to do right by his late mother-in-law – though I wouldn’t put it past him to thriftily reuse the salt after the funeral.
Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes (Chapter 39 – I am the Resurrection)
Have you ever made your own salt?
It’s certainly something Hiram Crombie and the rest of the fisher folk would have done back before they left Scotland, and it’s a near-effortless activity that I’ve been doing for a few years here on Pender, during our island winters.
The first step is to get yourself down to a clean beach or into a boat in pristine waters. Pick your collection spot carefully, and choose a day when the weather is relatively calm, so that the water is still and clear.
This is especially important if you are collecting off the beach, as stormy weather churns up shallow waters, and means you’ll have more debris in your bucket.
I make my salt in winter, because we have a woodstove burning all day, most days, and a pot of water on top of the stove humidifies the air and reduces the shock factor when approaching home electronics.
If you don’t have a woodstove but still want to give this a try, the kitchen stove (turn on your exhaust fan!) is an option, or, if you prefer, wait until summer and boil it outside on a camp stove.
The first step after you get your buckets of sea water home is to strain the water through several layers of cheesecloth or a clean, natural-fibre dishcloth. (I use a cotton/linen dishcloth that I reserve solely for salt making.)
Next, pour the water into a large pot. A large enameled canning pot works well, as does my GIANT stainless steel stock pot. Ideally, you want the water at a low boil, which allows for relatively quick evaporation without the billows of steam associated with a full rolling boil.
Once it gets down to a salty slurry, it’s time to transfer what’s left to a smaller pot or dish. The greater the surface area, the faster the last of the water will evaporate.
Some salt makers transfer this to a 250° F oven for an hour or two until it’s dry, but rather than use electricity, I set mine on a rack about 6″ above the surface of the woodstove to slowly dry over the course of another couple of days.
Depending on the salinity of your local water, you’ll get just over a cup of off-white, chunky sea salt for every gallon of sea water you start with. Use it as a finishing salt and at the table. Store in a covered container indefinitely.