All it takes is a little seawater, and a little evaporation…What could be easier?
Making our own sea salt has become one of the simple pleasures of Maine homesteading. For cooking, and especially for pickling and canning, salt is one of those everyday-use items that earns very little attention most of the time. It’s inexpensive and easy to pick up at the grocery store…And yet, there are many benefits to making it ourselves!
Sea salt is naturally a bit healthier than salt mined from the earth, containing a variety of micronutrients that are beneficial, and none of those anti-caking additives. The process of collecting and evaporating seawater, especially on our small family scale, is much more eco-friendly than the commercial processes that produce table salt. Here on the Maine coast, the water is cold and clean, well-suited to gathering without concern of pollution or toxins. And visiting this stretch of shoreline to harvest a little seawater never feels like a chore!
Once we’ve brought home our harvest of salty water, it’s time to apply heat…We start the process on an outdoor propane stove, so that we can rapidly boil off a lot of moisture without over-humidifying our house. We’ve found, actually, that winter is a great time for this activity, because you don’t have to be concerned about bugs or leaves drifting into your salt.
Once the saltwater is down to a manageable level, we pour it through a filter into a smaller kettle, and finish it on the wood stove. And this is where some of the really wonderful moments of salt-making unfold, which you never get to witness when you just pick it up at the store.
Salt is a crystal, of course…By the end of its process, it is a rather-unremarkable mass of small, crumbly crystals…But during its formation, it goes through a wonderful variety of stages, often surprising and beautiful, and more than once inspiring joyful cries of, “Come here, you gotta see this!”
The moisture from this mineral-laden sea water doesn’t just uniformly evaporate, like soup or gravy, gradually and evenly thickening until it’s all dried out…That would be too ordinary! Instead, crystals form and grow unexpectedly, creating complex configurations and layers, developing more like snowflakes or gemstones, branching and faceting, in glittering mountains and valleys and spires and bridges, ever-changing, and ever-lovely!
And even though it’s only salt, it is incredibly beautiful to behold…And these are the moments that make me want to make sea salt again-and-again, instead of simply picking it up off the shelf!
As the crystals pile up, we ladle them out into a bowl to drain, and once all of the water has evaporated from our pan, we return the batch of crystals to the woodstove for a final dry-out, stirring until all of the salt has grown white and crumbly, as we are accustomed to seeing it, ready for use in the kitchen.
This homemade sea salt is simple and delicious, and it’s wonderful to know that it comes right from the ocean, has no additives, required no factory processing, and was produced with just a little bit of our time, a little bit of propane, and a little bit of the wood heat that was already being used to heat our house…
But really, the best part of making sea salt ourselves is watching the amazing process of its formation that we would never get to see any other way!
by Sydney Michalski