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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Northwestest Salt

A few weeks ago, I worked at Point Roberts, which is a landform (not a 5-4 decision written by the SCOTUS Chief) that is part of the Canadian mainland, but part of the US. It's the western end of Boundary Bay, and because it noses south of the 49th Parallel, is part of the Lower 48, if not the contiguous United States. It is the northwesternmost part of the US outside of Alaska, and therefore I resolved to make some salt from this place. 

Because I was camping, and because making a couple of international border crossings with a bag of white powder seemed like not such a good plan, what I brought back to Olympia were a couple of growlers filled with sea water. [Growlers being jugs--half a gallon in this case--that we Cascadians keep handy to fill with beer at the brewpubs spaced and conveniuent half-mile intervals throughout our land.] Customs and Border Patrol are unconcerned with this, although in the line-up I was wondering if I'd have to explain why I was transporting seawater.

Making the salt is pretty straightforward, as I've figured out before. It looks something like this:

This time around, I learned a couple of things. One is that you can burn salt. Set it to boiling, and get sidetracked by a phone call, and you end up with this:

Add caption

The grey crust at the bottom bothered me, so I scraped off the good part, added water, and filtered it before starting over, paying more attention to the boil this time. Eventually, enough water boils off to leave a bubbling white paste, which with some stirring can be relieved of most of its water.

But not all. The penultimate phase is paste. This goes onto a stone tile that I use for baking and pizza:

My favorite salt shot yet.
 I've kept salt (from South Carolina, in that case) at this paste stage before, and it' s actually a nice texture to work with. Fine grained but cohesive, easily dissolved into water or sauce. What makes salt at the penultimate drying phase best and most unique is that it is spreadable. Excellently easy for salt-crusting a piece of chicken.

But for whatever reason, I wanted this northwesternest US salt to be totally dry. So I spread it on the stone and cut furrows through it to maximuze surface area and make the drying quicker and more thorough. Popped it in the oven on the lowest setting, and when it felt dry left it in with the door open. It didn't take much. I'm pretty sure if I'd brought it across the border looking like this, I would have been arrested:

So, that's the story of making salt from the Salish Sea west of Boundary Bay. It's good,...salty. It came with less grit and arthropods than some of the salt I've made. Maybe not a fancy gourmet salt, no color or extra flavor, just the good clean merroir of the northwestest salt I could reach.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bottom of the Barrel

Most of us buy our food, and have little or no connection to times of plenty and famine, cycles of harvest and lean times. Often as not, modern people asked to name the hungriest time of year will name Winter. But before global transport of food from wherever the harvest is coming in to suburban USA, before food preservation technology took hold (nostalgia for canning gets us, oh, a fraction of a percent back toward the dawn of the human appetite), Spring's beauty was draped over the harsh reality that the livestock were yet lean and the crops were mere aspirations, months from fruition.

Stocking a larder and avoiding losses from it, therefore, was a matter not just of avoiding guilt over waste, it was crucial. I've availed myself of canning, a bit of freezing (I may have bouts of nostalgia, and experiment with ancient foodways, but hey, I'm not gonna forego modern conveniences entirely), and have transformed part of my garage into a cellar with hanging mesh sacks of shallots and onions hanging, potatoes stashed in dark places, and crates of apples. Recently, the Winter Solstice a fading memory and sunlight growing every day, the apple scent experienced a slight change, the sweet lilt got a tangy edge, mellowing turning into fermentation and, if I did not move, outright rot.

Sure enough, the last milk crate of apples purchased just before the Farmers Market shut down for the Winter had a few bad ones. Many of the remainder had bad spots, and passive preservation clearly could not continue without spoilage loss. 

So I did what any reasonable person would do. Handed my eight-year-old a knife and told her it was time to learn how to cut. She's had some practice with avocados, but even an old apple is harder than that, and we worked together, me teaching her how to hold the knife and the food, pointing out when she was about to risk slicing herself instead of the fruit, and how to avoid that. Adding blood to the applesauce is no way to get your iron.

We had a great time, and in the end we had a bunch of applesauce, which can be put in the fridge, the freezer, or even canned so that the apples season of 2012 can last past the lean months. The compost got a meal of scraps, and we got enough delicious sauce for a bunch more meals.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Carb Dogs

Back off!
Recently, scientists published the results of a study on the canine genome. One of the crucial differences between dogs and wolves, it turns out, is that only the dogs can digest carbs. For a very long time, scientists and common sensists have reasoned that the domesticated dog as originally a wolf that followed humans around and fed on their middens or kill sites. A few people, sly as foxes, reasoned that both humans and wolves congregated around kills and carrion, and that the domestication process may have been more commensal than unidirectional. 

But now the genes tell us that the domestic dog can consume carbohydrates to some benefit, whereas los lobos cannot, and we move from an understanding of mutual carnivorism or scavenging to four-leggeds hanging around two-legged gatherers or farmers. [Eventually, I have no doubt, I wil learn of the legend in which farming is just a trick that coyote plays on humans so he can eat for free.] Whether it was people growing grain or digging roots, odds are that this imputes a greater role to women than the meat-eater model would have suggested, since women have long dug the wild roots and tended the gardens while men went off to hunt, or whatever it is they did when game was scarce and beer was not yet been invented.

The dog-carb connection comes as no surprise to me. I have a dog that is healthy, and a huge fan of bread. Serendipitously (or, honed by evolutionarily), the mutt likes her bread stale and hard. She is a huge fan of old bagels, and the photo above is her eating a burnt and aged loaf of soda bread, inedible to humans. In that shot, she is slightly blurred because she senses a threat and is springing into action, she feels like the photographer is coming after her precious lithified loaf. Never have I seen a dog of my acquaintance so viciously protective of something not made of ham. 

So thank you, scientists, for vindicating my non-obese, non-diabetic hound.