I grew up in the classroom of my grandmother’s kitchen back in the 1950s and ’60s, way before old-fashioned kitchen techniques came in vogue. We were always canning, putting up something, making do with something else, and using every bit of the yard for either beautifying our world or feeding our family. The kitchen was the center of our world, and everything seemed to either begin or end in that kitchen. It was full of everything we needed, sans the fancy gadgets seen in kitchens today.
We had delicious, simple food without having to buy a new ingredient for each recipe. Our recipes were memorized or written on index cards that I now cherish like gold. Each card had comments and suggestions for how to improve the recipe, or compliments on what worked well. I was the sous chef, cutting vegetables, measuring ingredients, getting eggs to room temperature and preheating the oven. Everyone had a job to do, but it wasn’t really work, it was community — family time to talk and visit, to catch up with one another before life ran by too fast.
One of the most frequently used ingredients in our family recipes was salt. Because we cooked from scratch, salt was not already in most of our ingredients, and we had better control over how much sodium each dish contained. We bought salt in bulk, and we added a teaspoon of rice to the salt shaker to prevent the salt from caking up in our humid Southern kitchen.
Here are 12 examples of the myriad ways we put salt to work in my grandmother’s kitchen:
1. We sprinkled salt on frying pans to prevent fish — especially skinned fish — from sticking to the pan.
2. We soaked our turkeys and rabbits in salt brine before baking.
3. We dipped our wet hands in salt to help us get a good grip on fish before we cleaned them.
4. We scoured fishy pans with salt water before rinsing them in fresh water to get rid of any fish smells.
5. We knew that corn on the cob would be softer if we added salt to the water after it started boiling.
6. Before baking potatoes, we soaked them in lukewarm salt water for 10 minutes before rinsing and baking the spuds in the oven. This resulted in softer potatoes that baked faster.
7. We pickled with plain salt instead of iodized salt, which caused darkening.
8. We added a dash of salt to the pan before making fried apples, because it left the apples a bit more candied.
9. We poached egg whites in salt water to make them firmer.
10. We didn’t add salt to eggs before making omelets because it made them watery.
11. We mixed a bit of salt, sugar and cornmeal with honey to make a good homemade facial scrub (if rinsed off thoroughly).
12. We cleaned knives with salt to keep them from tarnishing as quickly.
As you can tell, salt was fundamental in our lives. We didn’t add too much salt to the food, allowing each person to add as desired at the table. But we knew how important it was, believing the adage that each person was worth her salt! What about vinegar? Well, don’t get me started on vinegar. It was invaluable for cleaning, cooking and making some mighty fine pickles.
Leland, North Carolina
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