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The first salt produced?in what is now the United States was made, of course, by native people, though in many cases we don’t know?the particular techniques?used.

Spanish explorer Hernando?de?Soto observed people living along the Mississippi?Delta?boiling brine they made from salt dried on the sand. Avery Island, nestled in the Louisiana bayou, is home to the oldest known?saltworks?in North America?-?the people living there used broken pottery, some of which is carbon dated to 2500 BCE,?to make salt.?Along the East Coast, salt and the colonization of the eastern seaboard went hand in hand.?English sailors?made their first regular trips there?not to settle, but to fish.?And?explorers?Lewis?and?Clark?became?the first known men to produce salt?on the West Coast?during their epic expedition?of the early 19thcentury.

Today,?we’re seeing a resurgence of new American?saltmakers, making salt much?in?the same way?that?makers did centuries ago.?From Mendocino, California,?to Hawaii, from?rooftops in?New York City?to?the?small island of?Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt,?a fairly new venture from husband and wife team Curtis Friedman and Heidi Feldman,?gets its unique mineral richness from the?waters surrounding the Atlantic Ocean?island.?Vineyard residents?Heidi and Curtis, a tech consultant and carpenter who started Down Island Farm on their Tisbury property,?started researching?sea?salt?a few years ago and formally launched theirs?in the spring of 2013.

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt?revives a?lost tradition on the?island, which, like many places in New England, has?a long, storied history in salt.?As far back as the late-1600s,?colonial?settlers began to produce sea salt on Martha’s Vineyard, also referred to as?Noepe?by the?Native?American?Wampanoag?tribe.?Residents of the Vineyard used?sea salt?to preserve and season food?and tan animal hides, all extremely critical to?survival. By 1807, salt manufacturing was the island’s second largest industry, but?it?declined after the War of 1812?when?large,?industrial companies?began popping up?along the coast. Since?that time, a few Islanders have produced sea salt for personal and even restaurant use,?but none have attempted to reintroduce 100% natural sea salt.?Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt is the first known?saltworks?on the Vineyard?to produce sea salt commercially?since the?1800s.

Heidi and Curtis?use a?deceptively?simple evaporation process to produce?their?salt.?Every few weeks, they pump?sea?water?from the ocean into a plastic tank,?drive it back to their farm, and funnel it?into?a 76-by-12 evaporator Curtis built on the outskirts of their property.?Once the water is in, it’s just a matter of time?–?and sun.?Slowly (but surely), most of the water evaporates?until?only?residual salt granules?are left.?Heidi and Curtis?then rake the salt crystals by hand?and put them through a short dehydrator in small batches before packaging.

This salt is an honest expression of the island itself: wet and rocky and a tad non-traditional. The couple?seems?intent?to keep it that way. They’ve struck a beautiful balance,?negotiating between climate, process,?and history, letting the island do the work (with a pump or two at the beginning and a shake or two of the rake at the end). The resulting salt is one that’s fresh,?briney,?and abundant with minerals. . I use it on hearty meats, like beef and bison or on roasted vegetables, like potatoes with herbs, much like I would use a Sel Gris de L’Ile de Re or Pangasinan Star. I also like it mixed into hearty bean stews or chilis, or sprinkled on top of springy grain salads, like quinoa with apples, feta, scallions and a lemon vinaigrette. A pinch or two on rich, buttery baked goods like pretzels or crostatas is also wonderful.

The secret of this new American salt is out: locals are going crazy about?it,?chefs can’t seem to sprinkle enough on their dishes, and?media from half way around the world are knocking down the?evaporator?door to get their hands on some. And I happen to be over-the-moon about this American salt as well – the flavor of New England reverberating on the island, and across the country, stronger than ever.

 

You can find Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt and other new American salts for sale at The Meadow’s online shop.

 

Island Photos courtesy Heidi Feldman.

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