I know extracting salt from seawater isn’t exactly new, it’s been going on in England for thousands of years, but one morning, quite out of the blue, I felt duty bound to try my hand at extracting some salt of my own. It appealed to the forager in me, who likes to make the most of Nature’s larder, and also to my sense of fun. Who else do I know who makes his own salt?
There are any number of fancy sea salts available in the supermarkets and delicatessens, advertising benefits stemming from their particular region or coastal topology. They come with minerals or added flavours such a herbs and smoke; they even proudly boast specific crystal structures! All worthy characteristics of a gourmet salt I’m sure, but all at a cost that seems to deny salt’s humble origins and bountiful supply.
My seawater came from the North Sea. The day was bright but cold, and in my opinion, not at all suited to getting wet. But opinions vary, and I knew someone would be brave enough to go in, if only up to the ankles. So I sat on Southwold peer, looking south and drinking tea with my empty water bottle at the ready. The tea had barely brewed when I spotted my assistant salt maker dipping his toes into the briny.
The trim seventy-something man looked at me incredulously as I explained for the fourth time what I wanted a bottle of seawater for, but he eventually decided that humouring me was the quickest way to get shot of me and so determined to grasp the bottle.
I’m not sure why, but even at this stage he seemed reluctant to actually fill my bottle, and twice I sent him back to put some more in. Maybe he thought that since his were the feet getting wet, he had more claim over the sea than I did, and maybe he had a point, or perhaps he was worried that there might not be quite enough to go around.
Having at last handed me a nearly full bottle of fairly cloudy seawater that glistened as the sun hit swirling crystals of sand, he could barely hide his relief at having finally shaken me off, and returned to the important business of getting cold feet.
For my part, my feet were still warm and dry, my water bottle was sufficiently full and I my tea had cooled to the perfect drinking temperature. Result!
Having already passed my seawater through a coffee filter to get rid of the sand, shreds of seaweed and the larger fauna, I poured it into a round, plastic container that I normally use for transporting cakes. I cleared a space for my ‘saltpan’ on top of the tallboy in the spare bedroom and covered it with a gauze cake protector to keep out the flies, and I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And after about three months my seawater had reduced to a small collection of large, wet crystals.
Curiously, the drying reached a stage when the crystals wouldn’t dry any further; what moisture they lost during warmer, drier hours was replaced during times when the temperature dropped. We’ve all seen salt get a bit lumpy in moist conditions, but my salt was seriously wet. The anticaking agents added to table salt must be powerful stuff indeed!
After a few hours in a ramekin on top of the kitchen radiator to drive off the last of the moisture, my first batch of salt was ready for consumption.
It’s fair to say that having dried my seawater so slowly I was expecting to see some beautiful flakes like the expensive ones you see in the shops, but mine were square lumps. I always keep some flakes in a small dish in the kitchen, but they never seem to attract moisture, staying dry in warm weather or cold, during dry days or damp. Even more curious.
But I have my Southwold Sea Salt and it won’t go to waste!