Regardless of the chef, the theme, the flavours, or any other variable, the one constant we use in our cooking is salt. So we were delighted that Amanda contacted us and suggested she explore the magical world of salt and what represents. Elisa then took Amanda’s original idea to write this piece - a springboard that might just make you think differently about this gem from the kitchen.
Pillars, domes, seams, gardens, mines, salt exists, and is obtained, through a variety of evocative forms and processes. Its history is as equally tantalising from its use as currency and trade, the Roman ‘sal’ paid as wages to its soldiers, its ability to preserve and overwinter food thus making possible the long distance journey, to its use in ancient times to legally bind an agreement or friendship due to its association with permanence. As Cicero said, ‘trust no-one unless you have eaten much salt with them’ 
Salt as a mineral is as equally enigmatic and shot through with paradox: it is the only rock that human’s eat, it can both preserve and erode, we associate it with dryness but it can be isolated from water, it is rock and dissolves but can be returned again to its solid state. Its final paradox is in its’ both essential quality to life and flavour in food but ultimate invisibility, reduced to the familiar and overlooked daily table condiment, and never really discussed as an ‘ingredient’ with any provenance in the way say flour in artisan baking has come to be discussed. This reduces salt to a sense of singularity when in fact it is as varied as the multiple ancient grains now sourced for flour, salt being sourced from both rock and sea.
In many ways salt has suffered a similar fate to sugar in general consciousness inhabiting a more statistical discourse then other consumables and one that concentrates on how much of it is good for human health reflecting government health statistics or RDA (recommended dietary allowance). No added salt, like no added sugar has become a consumer watchword, and reflects the changing agendas that have become attached to foodstuffs. However the ‘taste’ for salt is much more that a government statistic, the fight for it mirrors our changing cultural, philosophical and technological relationship to the world.
Both physically and linguistically the contemporary world is littered with salty remains underlining salts far -reaching influence. Its myriad uses, from freezing ice-cream to removing rust to treating earaches and coughs, Mark Kurlansky states that there are in fact actually over 14,00 uses listed for salt, has placed huge impetus on the desire to locate and extract it. Key cities were erected in part due to their proximity to salt mines, Rome for example, was built in hills behind the salt works at the mouth of the Tiber and the Romans built the first roads, ‘salt roads’, as means to transport salt more efficiently. As a result the oldest trade routes originate from the need to connect salt with major habitats as in the first salt road, the Via Salaria, connecting the port of Ostia with Rome; salt was therefore key to Roman Empire building. This love of salt and its diversity of use is further evidenced in its linguistic trace, the aforementioned ‘sal’, the payment in salt to Roman soldiers, gives us the word salary while salad comes from the Roman’s taste for salting their greens. The familiar turn of phrase of not being ‘worth your salt’ literally reflects your value, you are not worth exchanging for the precious commodity of salt something that was further symbolically played out in salt’s positioning on the dining table. The tradition of housing salt in elaborate saltcellars, often made of precious metals, was very visible evidence of the esteem that the Romans held salt in as well as its value as a commodity. Dining tables of the nobility would have two saltcellars, a highly decorative one to the right of the hostess and a plain one at the other end of the table. Those sat beyond the plain cellar were considered literally ‘below the salt’, not worthy of attention. The importance carried by the salt-cellar can be further seen in its representation in painting either to indicate the sumptuous nature of a meal, such as in Gerard Horenbout’s ‘The Lord’s Banquet’ 1510-20, or more symbolically in Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ 1495-7. Cleaning of Da Vinci’s painting has revealed Judas overturning a saltcellar, an action that forewarns of his later betrayal. Salt’s ability to preserve led to it being understood as a protection against evil making spilling it highly unlucky and in the context of Da Vinci’s painting obviously engendering foreboding played out in the unravelling of forthcoming events. 
More directly in relation to legacy ‘salt towns’ in Britain can continue to be identified today by the presence of the Anglo Saxon wich in their name. Droitwich, Sandwich, Nantwich, all bear the legacy of being ‘a place where there was salt’, leaving a very physical ‘salty’ imprint on the urban scape.
More than flavouring salt has a complex relationship with our eating habits. A taste for salt, unlike sweetness, is also shared with animals; cattle for example will lick a wall to extract its salty deposits. A naturally occurring salt lick would attract animals over distances in search of its bone and muscle enhancing nutrients. This ‘salt tie’ has been suggested as one means by which man tamed animals for domestic use and looked to rear them for meat. Man had only to provide and then return with salt for cattle roaming in pasture to keep them ‘tied’. Salt therefore helped in facilitating the maintenance of a varied meat diet. Ironically as our diet moved from being totally carnivorous and showed increased consumption of vegetables salt became even more prized, Margaret Visser even suggests that it is at this point that we start to get addicted to salt. The development of cultivating crops and then the ability to boil vegetables directly over a fire, enabled by the development of metal cooking pots, made vegetables more plentiful in the diet but this naturally meant less salt which was readily present in the salty blood and bones of meat but boiled away in the cooking of vegetables. A taste for salt therefore became even more intensified as we looked to add it to food where it was not naturally occurring or diminished by cooking.
Scotland: a particular relationship
In Scotland, salt production is only known to have begun in the Middle Ages, much later than elsewhere. Without enough heat from the sun in the colder British northern climate to naturally evaporate the seawater to extract the salt, wood or coal were burnt instead. Most salt production was concentrated on the River Forth with the Prestonpans works being the most prominent example and also the last remaining of its era, finally shutting down in 1959.
Today, after half a century of almost no salt production in Scotland, in 2011 two companies emerged producing the product, in both cases from the sea: ‘The Hebridean Sea Salt Company’ on the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Skye ‘Sea Salt Company’. Both lay claims to their salt having greater taste and trace mineral elements that are good for human health, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc, the health benefits originally attracting cattle, unlike standard table salt. In order to understand whether the human body actually processes these sea salts in a healthier way than more processed varieties would require much further and more longitudinal scientific research but the fact that the discussion around ingredients and health in salt is happening at all reflects perhaps a changing consideration and status for it in line with other more ‘favoured’ ingredients.
Joining the dots on the culinary map: some salt recipes
The inclusion of salt as the key part of a recipe, like the history of salt itself, has its own narrative and paradoxes but beyond all else, as Shelia Dillon recently put it on radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’ salt in this context enables a joining of all the dots on the culinary map. This programme dealt exclusively with ‘Salt Fish’ that as a dish links Britain, Europe and the Caribbean. Contemporarily salted cod or ackee is most familiarly encountered as Caribbean festival food but its history began in the cod trade around Britain in the 15th and 16th centuries. At this time the western seas were thick with cod, so much so as to warrant a comment in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and much cod was salted and dried at this time. However a culinary taste for salted fish eluded the British. Instead it was traded for Spanish and Portuguese wine facilitating the history of salted fish as key element of celebratory cuisine in those countries rather than in Britain. One exception was Liverpool, which as a port had its own influx of salted fish where it became popular as a particular cure for hangovers!
Salted fish’s history in relation to Caribbean cuisine has its roots in the slave trade when it was taken by the Portuguese to Brazil and fed to slaves on the sugar plantations. Later English plantations in Barbados also fed slaves salted cod from Newfoundland due to its cheapness. In this way salt fish becomes central to both Caribbean and also African cuisine with slaves bringing recipes for salt cod with them and continuing, while in slavery, to recreate it as a means of holding onto identity contributing to salt’s paradoxical history of resistance and repression. 
- 1 cod fillet
- 500g of sea salt
- 500g sugar
- Wash and dry the fillet of cod. Mix together the salt and sugar
- Sprinkle half of the salt and sugar into a baking tray and lay the fish on top
- Cover with the remaining salt and sugar and pack tightly
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 24 hours. If the cod fillet is particularly thick it will need longer
- Once the cod has firmed up rinse well in cold water and pat dry
- Wrap in muslin cloth and leave on a wire rack in the fridge for 7–10 days
- The salt cod will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks or the freezer for a few months. It needs to be soaked in cold water for 24 hours before using, changing the water at least twice during this time
Ackee is Jamaica’s national dish. It can be eaten any time or any day of the week. However, it is traditionally served as a breakfast meal on Saturday and/or Sunday, or on special occasions. Ackee and saltfish is sautéed saltfish (codfish) with boiled ackee, onions, thyme, Scotch Bonnet peppers (optional), tomatoes, red bell pepper (optional), garlic, black pepper and pimiento. Ackee is Jamaica’s national fruit. A heated debate amongst Jamaicans is whether Ackee is a vegetable or fruit.
- 1/2 lb. Saltfish (codfish)
- 1 dozen ackees or 1 can of ackee
- 1 large onion
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 sprigs tyme
- 2 crushed garlic or 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 3 slices hot scotch bonnet pepper
- 1 small red sweet pepper
- 1 small tomato
- cooking oil
- Soak saltfish in water to remove some of the salt or boil in water for 5-7 minutes.
- Clean the ackee. Remove the seeds and all traces of interior red pit from the ackees.
- Wash ackees five times
- Cover and boil until moderately soft.
- Drain, cover, and put aside.
- Pick up (flake) the saltfish and remove all bones.
- Sauté thinly sliced onions and sweet pepper rings.
- Cut up the tomato
- Remove half of the fried onions and peppers
- Add saltfish and the ackees, and turn the fire/stove up slightly.
- Add black pepper
- Pour in to serving plate and garnish with remaining onions and pepper slices
 Margaret Visser, Much Depends on Dinner, Grove Press, 1986, p.58
 Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), quoted by Amelia Carruthers (2015) in Writers on... Food (A Book of Quotations, Poems and Literary Reflections), Read Publishing, p.25
 Mark Kurlansky, Salt. A World History, Vintage, 2003, p.5
 See Silivia Malaguzzi, Food and Feasting in Art, Mondadori Electa, Milan , 2006, pp.271-6, and Jack Wasserman, ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper: The Case of The Overturned Salt Cellar’, Artibus et Historiae Vol 24, 2003, pp.65-72
 Op Cit. Visser p.65
 Op Cit. Kurlansky, pp.9-10
 Maureen M Meikle, (2013) The Scottish People 1490-1625, Lulu, p.75
 Radio 4 ‘The Food Programme-Salt Fish’ broadcast, August 28th 2017 www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
 Op cit ‘The Food Programme’ Caliban in The Tempest is referred to as smelling like ‘poor John’, which was the name for salt cod.
 Lizzie Collingham, The Hungry Empire, Bodley Head, Aug 2017
 Recipe www.greatbritishchefs.com
 www. Jamacians.com
Original concept Amanda Formisano / further research and final text Elisa Oliver
ELISA OLIVER - Elisa has a background in art history and within this a longstanding interest in the experiential and interdisciplinary in cultural practices, which includes food and its related activities. She teaches at MMU and Leeds Beckett University and she is Co Director of the online journal Feast www.feastjournal.co.uk. She recently completed work on a curated meal for the James Joyce Centre Dublin, ‘Tasting Joyce’ and is currently looking to develop the idea of ‘tasting’ as a curatorial and interpretative model. She will be developing a new website in 2018 but for now some details of her work can be found at www.feastjournal.co.uk, and instagram @feastmagazine and @eoelisa.
AMANDA FORMISANO - Amanda blends can academic background rooted in history and anthropology with a love for simple ingredients cultivated in Italy. She lived in Italy and Austria where she honed and obsession in food and drink obsession until 2015 when she moved back to Edinburgh. She has worked in the industry since in a variety of roles, with her main focus being on the quality, simplicity and integrity of ingredients (a reflection of the Italian approach to food and drink). She can be found on twitter and instagram, whilst she doesn’t post much she’s hoping you might help her use them both more.
Original Artwork by Vroni Von Manz
Vroni, 26, is based in the Lower Bavarian Forest/Germany where she works as a chef and illustrator. She is an Alumna of the University of Gastronomic Sciences. She puts on a dish or paper the things already in her head, creating interesting thoughts. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram: vronivonmanz or #vronstagram
Photos from unsplash
Salt flats email@example.com Instagram: @joelfilip