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A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life

In February, I purchased four 10 kg bags of “fine grey sea salt” for Happy Monk bread production. That’s eighty-eight pounds of beautiful salt harvested off the west coast of France.

Don’t worry. Your Happy Monk loaves aren’t going to get saltier. They’ll taste the same as ever. I’ve been using this brand, Maison Orphée, for nearly three years; I got a reasonable price on this batch, and it will last well into next year.

I’ve never used a common variety of table salt in bread, a chemical-tainted substance full of iodides and anti-caking additives. Why would a baker put this kind of “chemical salt” in bread, the staff of life!

Elemental, like the ocean

I love Maison Orphée salt for its pure crystal taste. It’s elemental, like the ocean. Clean and sharp with layers of subtle flavour.

It’s distinctly familiar. Anyone who has dipped themselves in the ocean has had salt water on the lips, in the mouth. The water cakes on the skin if you lie down to dry in the sun. You can lick it off your wrist and taste the ocean. Not what most would call delicious in itself, but it’s deeply recognizable. Deeply human.

Maison Orphée salt comes from salt marshes of the Île de Noirmoutier, not far from where the Loire River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The salt is harvested by workers, called “paludiers” (from the Latin “palu,” meaning “marsh”). They use the ocean’s tides, several types of ponds and little else. Sun and wind are all that dry the salt, and the end product may be ground into finer grades of salt for different purposes.

Saltwater World

It’s unrefined and free of additives. It includes nutritional minerals often purged in modern “purification” methods; it’s lower in sodium content than most salt and contains an array of trace minerals, including magnesium and potassium.

Salt water covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface. When I look across the roiling waters of Boundary Pass, it’s easy to understand the idea that we live in a saltwater world. None of us is very far from the ocean.

Nor is the ocean far from us.

Before writing Silent Spring, Rachel Carson won the 1951 National Book Award for The Sea Around Us. It was a scientific and poetic exploration of the sea, ranging from its primeval beginnings to the latest scientific research. Today, Carson explains, our bodies are comprised of “a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in seawater.” In other words, our land-based existence still carries our marine origins.

So why must we reach halfway across the globe to the west coast of France to buy the best salt?

A piece of bread, a pinch of salt

It’s not through lack of trying! When Jen and I moved to Pender Island eleven years ago, one of my early projects was making sea salt.

I’d collect large buckets of seawater from the beach below our property. I filtered the water through multiple layers of cheesecloth, then coffee filters. The “purified” seawater was then poured into pans, where it evaporated over several days. I finished warming it for several hours in the oven for final evaporation.

In the end, I had several hundred grams of Pender Island sea salt. I made several batches of it and used it often in my early bread experiments. I used it as a finishing salt for some of my gourmet dishes, and it was great fun telling people where it came from.

One day, I wondered, why go to all that trouble evaporating salt water for bread? Instead of adding filtered water plus salt, I used full-on filtered sea water in my bread recipes. No extra salt. The bread tasted delicious, and, for several months, I used just seawater in my bread.

There is little more human than a pinch of salt. There is little more human than a piece of bread.


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2 thoughts on “A Pinch of Salt, A Pinch of Life

  1. We love you and your care of what we put in our bodies .right down to the salt!
    Thank you David. How do we get some Maison Orphee?

    1. Thanks for kind words, Laurel. Maison Orphée salts are available in good food stores and “health” stores. Market on Yates in Victoria has it, too, along with other quality salts!

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