Sunday, July 18, 2010

“When life hands you lemons -

break out the tequila and salt.”
This heat wave does bring one to consider the tropical drinks!

But, salt is what brought me to this post...and salt cellars or open salts. I got several in an auction lot. Of course, that always prompts the research. Did you know that most governments have seen salt as a suitable commodity to tax? Since salt in excess is unpleasant, consumption by the rich does not much exceed that of the poor, and thus a tax on salt is fundamentally a poll tax.

About 4,700 years ago in China, Peng-Tzao-Kan-Mu, the earliest known treatise on pharmacology discussed more than 40 kinds of salt, including descriptions of two methods of extracting salt and putting it in usable form that are amazingly similar to processes used today.

China was the first to create a tax over 2000 years ago. Salt extraction was difficult, and salt had to be pumped from the sea and then allowed to evaporate. The salt tax was the mainstay of government revenue. In India during the late 19th century it cost a month's wages to provide salt for the family.

After 1879 until the end of British rule, wage inflation gradually eroded the severity of the salt tax. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi protested against the unjust tax. He and his followers marched to the sea to illegally gather salt. This and their subsequent imprisonment were key episodes in the fight for independence when the salt tax was abolished.Salt has played a prominent role in determining the power and location of the world's great cities. Liverpool rose from just a small English port to become the prime exporting port for the salt dug in the great Cheshire salt mines in the 1800s.

Salt created and destroyed empires. The salt mines of Poland led to a vast kingdom in the 1500s, only to be destroyed when Germans brought in sea salt (to most of the world, considered superior to rock salt, and you notice how many of our food manufacturers are promoting the sea Campbell's). Venice fought and won a war with Genoa over salt.

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. (Californians better watch out!--not to mention those of us here in New Jersey!) Before Lewis and Clark set out for the Louisiana Territory, President Jefferson spoke in his address to Congress about a mountain of salt supposed to lie near the Missouri River which would have been of immense value.

Most of the "salts" seen in shops are from the Victorian era. An old guide came with the salts...there are a thousand tiny pictures of these little tabletop jewels.Salt came in rock form and had to be chipped off or ground (yes, salt grinders are back), and so the salt shaker is fairly new...around 1940 new methods of processing allowed a finer salt.

This salt shaker is part of a set from the Griffith Laboratories. The company wanted to "brand" themselves to the general public. They created a set of twelve high-quality spices, each in its own stylishly designed, gleaming white glass jar. Each jar was sealed with an airtight cap with a convenient sifter top beneath. The company, concerned about contamination from mold and bacteria, used a revolutionary proprietary purifying method to make sure the spices were clean, safe and pure.
Sold through the home furnishings departments of Marshall Field's, Macy's and other fine stores, the Griffith spice set was successful immediately. Over the years, Griffith updated the design and introduced bright colors to coordinate with the popular color schemes of the time.

Salt has played a vital part in religious ritual in many cultures, symbolizing purity. There are more than 30 references to salt in the Bible, accounting for the significance of salt in Jewish culture. Roman soldiers were paid partly in salt...hence, salary...and there are salt museums around the world. You could put them out with the new gourmet salts...they did have tiny spoons for each salt, or you could repurpose it for a ring or a special jewel..or a tooth to surprise the fairy. So, if you are worth your salt or the salt of the earth, you do not need to take that compliment with a grain of salt. Cheers!


Patricia said...

What an interesting essay. Learned a lot this week, thanks. I love the little crystal salt cellars and use them all the time, they are so pretty on the table (and I wonder where my grandaughter got her love of all things sparkly).
Patricia Rose-A Potpourri of Fabric, Fragrance and Findings

Just a bed of roses said...

My husband and I really learned alot of today about the history of salt.
Pretty powerful stuff to own wasn't it. No wonder many beautiful pieces were made for the treasured commodity.
We got some good laughs too, you are quite the writer Susan

De esse Boutique said...

Thanks Susan

That was most informative, and fun to boot ! I always knew salt had a major place in history but just never "salted" out the history.

Thanks for doing the legwork for us.

You write such interesting articles.