We Crucians have a saying, “There is more to the mortar than the pestle.” It usually means there is something else going on. Well, there is much in my mortar and it is just beautiful! It must be something incredibly special to send me flying to my keyboard to share a foodie thought. The picture above is what I consider the Holy Grail of salt. It is rare and you can’t buy it. It can only be “friended”–given from the heart.
My husband brought home a package for me from the post office the other day and I wasn’t sure what it was. It was like opening one of those Russian Dolls where everytime you lifted the cover off one, there was another smaller one inside. It was well-wrapped, heavy, and crumbly. What could it be? The anticipation built until I remembered a conversation I had with one of my St. Johnian Foodie friends who shared with me that the St. Johnians had access to a pristine Salt Pond. And they would harvest from the pond the work the sea and the sky and the sun and the wind had done to solidify the ocean’s tears. HEAVEN!!
I’ve ALWAYS wanted to taste the salt from our waters. A few years ago, I did some research on how to do it by boiling seawater. However, I never had the inclination to do hours of boiling. Plus, I wanted to preserve the natural trace minerals in the salt water and boiling felt ike it would destroy those flavors. I wanted the Sun’s work!
So, Life decided to be kind and grant my wish! A fellow foodie Leah Randall sent me this package PRIORITY mail to make sure I was able to experience what our waters taste like. When I finally got through the package this is what it looked like. Crystals–chunks of solidified ocean salt water! There were flecks of gold and bits of settlement from the pond. This was nature’s most rustic form of salt. Unprocessed. No iodine added. Nature as a flavor!
I spoke with my FB friend David Silverman who shared with me lots of background information on the salt. He said, “The salt pond on St. John produces salt crystals due to its proximity to a windward bay, and its distance from any rainwater runoff.”
The Salt Collectors would wade out into the mushy clay to the edge of where the hardened salt crystals are. The crystals form a layer and they collect where the crystal layer begins – the lighter area. The clay itself can be used for skin treatments and conditioning. So every part of this pond is nature’s gift to our bodies. Wow!
Here you can see the salt crystals right beneath the surface of the water.
I spoke with Deanne Sommerville, who works for the National Park Service and is also a long-time St. Johnian resident. She collects salt responsibly from the Pond. What a gift of a conversation! She said that while it has been a longstanding practice to allow local residents to harvest some of the sea salt it may be something that would be modified to ensure the health of the pond. She said that while people believe the salt comes as a matter of evaporation it actually grows from the bottom of the pond. It has a pinkish hue that comes from the brined shrimp in the water. She described the salt collecting season is usually a short one of only about a week, but this year because of the drought it lasted over two months! She also said to remind people that it is a very labor intensive process and to harvest the salt with traditional hand tools only.
David Silverman described the process similarly saying, “the good salt collectors are careful to detach them very gently so that it doesn’t stir up the sediment below. ” I can only image the excitement the collectors must have as they literally pluck salt from our waters. Just beautiful!
A marine true treasure trove!!
In many ways we take the ubiquity of salt for granted, but these ponds scattered throughout the islands were at the heart of our pre-refrigeration food culture. Corned beef, hams, and fish were essential ways to preserve meat and ensure protein was readily available in a hot tropical climate where it would otherwise rot quickly. Salt was life!
As Crucians, we even include it in our everyday speech! If a Crucian says, “We sucking rock salt” (pronounced rack sahlt) we are saying things are essentially REALLY bad! If we say, “That event was Salt!” we mean it was boring, and would usually follow up with the contradiction of “It ain’t had NO taste!” I love the way food infiltrates our everyday chat!
The salt crystals with the beach that drains into the pond in the background. Seriously!? There is such beauty on these three Rocks! Our islands are blessed with so many natural resources. It is a feast for the eyes with gorgeous serene beaches as a backdrop to the gift that is our local salt.
Last thought: the taste of this salt is unlike any I have ever tried. I am a salt lover, not for the over saltiness of food, but for the flavor that each type of salt carries. Especially specialty salts like Fleur de Sel, or Pink Himalyan Salt, or Black Hawaiian salt…each carries its OWN personality. If I had to give this salt a name it would be the “Saltiest Salt” I have ever had! But right behind the unapologetic saltiness IS the ocean. You can TASTE that this is aquatic! You can literally taste the sea! Wow.
I shared a bit of it with some of my “Foodie Favorites.” And I am hoarding the rest because it is just too good. It is very hard, so I use a mortar and pestle to grind it or in this case my Mocajate (a Mexican mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock). But if I want a really fine texture I use my kitchen rasp.
Yep, I can see many a future food shares using this flavor gem!! Deanna shared that she makes it with coconut oil and a hit of the local salt. Hmmm…recipe ideas!
If you can’t walk into a pond and collect your own salt, then it might be time for you to start packing! Extra special thanks to Ms. Kim Sammartano for allowing me to share her beautiful photos of the actual salt collection. Love the foodie love on our Rock! I hope you have a wonderful Crucian day wherever you are in the world!