Sunday, February 6, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Salt, at some stage, was a very pricey commodity. Roman soldiers were paid in salt (salaria), which they could then use to trade for other things. Thus salary had its origin in "salt". And a good soldier was inevitably worth his salt (or not). Salt has become common over time and we seldom give it a second thought now.

Here at Velddrif on the West Coast, with its fields of brilliant white salt pans, a lot of salt finds its way into packaging and from there into the shops.This salt is extracted from sea brine which is pumped into pans to dry. There are plain and iodised table salt and some health salts with added spices, as well as coarse salt that is so attractive in a salt grinder.

But wait for it: khoisan salt, used for centuries by the first inhabitants of this country, is truly the queen of salts! It is natural, unsieved, unrefined, solar, hand harvested sea salt. The best product is "the cream of the salt" skimmed from the top and dried in a special way. The end result is Fleur de Sel salt flakes which was named one of the 5 top salts in the world. My painting shows a busy little scene at the salt works. Healthy khoisan salt is sold in all the curio shops, markets and restaurants around Velddrif and Langebaan.

We have recently bought a book with wonderful traditional khoisan recipes going back centuries. I think one has to be somewhat brave to try some recipes, but my first venture will be a rub that can be used on bread before baking, in salads or to rub meat with before cooking. The rub is made from the khoisan salt crystals, wild sage that grows in abundance in the fynbos; and some grated dry bokkoms......ah the sea, field and riverside aromas of West Coast will waft through my home!


  1. I love reading your stories and of course I love seeing and enjoying your art. What are bokkoms? Thank you so much for visiting my blog on a regular basis too. Take care

  2. Hi Marie...
    Just this week our health people and the news channels were talking about how all of us Yanks are eating too much salt. Not only do we have it in all of our processed foods, but we add more of it in the food we cook and eat because it makes everything taste so much better.... SIGH...

    Fun reminders of the origin of our words... and the value of salt. My husband's grandmother (who lived in Venice, Italy) kept her family alive during WWII and before by going to the salt fields near her home and then carrying salt inland on her back to the farmers and others who didn't have it available.

  3. Great sketch Marie! didn't know there were salt pans in your area, how interesting! Have you ever tried bathing in salt? It's great for detoxification of the body, especially Epsom Salts....

  4. I love your paintings of your home, Marie. Always they come with rich histories and interesting stories and this is no different. I love learning new things and you never disappoint. The sense of that salt dust around this fellow's feet is awesome. The whole piece is so industrious and so perfect!

  5. I never heard of this salt. Such an interesting post! I can only imagine how sparkly these mountains of salt must be in sunlight...

  6. what a delightful painting and very interesting I'll have to google to see if I can get my hands on some khoisan salt.

  7. Hi, Marie, nice to see you back from your travels. I can continue my education about the West Coast. This painting is a wonderful depiction of the salt works, which I knew nothing about. I like the way we see part of a massive salt pile in the foreground and work our way back to a medium-sized and a small pile of salt -- good painterly design. The people working there are surely the salt of the earth.

  8. A lot to learn about simple salt, an interesting post Marie, I liked the composition as well!

  9. Such interesting information! It is so much fun to try traditional recipes and know how people used to eat.
    Love the painting...nice light and beautiful colors. The salt mound in the forground really draws the eye in.

  10. I was thrilled at the reaction, also on Facebook, about my story on the salt pans. Thank you, all who looked and read and commented and asked questions!

    Thank you, Barbara! You asked about bokkoms and I added a link on the post.

    Marian, yes we are careful of salt too, but maybe it helps to have a good product for the little we use. I think your story of the WWII is wonderful! Chlorine, the poisonous gas part in salt was also used in cruel ways in the war, so your story about the Italian lady keeping alive through her hard work, is very heart-warming.

    Maree, more and more things are left to be discovered about the West Coast! The salt pans are most lovely in spring when there are flowers in the fields too!

  11. Sherry, thank you! What we love about the West Coast is that things are still done in natural and old-fashioned ways! Yup, walking on salt! Don't you just love the white boots the men wear?

    Susan, the top-of-the-salt, a very special product, is most blindingly white. I think in your shops you may find Himalayan salt that is also very healthy!

    Lovely to hear from you, Sheila! Could you order the khoisan salt? I think the link I gave may also be helpful!

  12. Mary, Thank you for commenting on my composition, I did add an extra heap of salt in the foreground to round off the painting!

    Thank you padmaja, I have travelled a lot, but always gave winter a wide berth! So,I have never seen snow, and painting salt gave me a chance to play with the whites.

    Thank you Catherine, I think I made a fortunate decision when I placed that mound of salt in the bottom right! What is nice about the West Coast is that nothing is hidden, and while driving one suddenly comes across lots of slat pans.

  13. Very informative, Marie.
    Love the painting of the salt raker hard at work!

  14. Oh Marie, this is making me want to jump into my car and drive up to Velddrif right now! I can absolutely smell the saltiness of the sea up there!

  15. Hi Cathyann, yes I have read that mining salt was another option. I have never seen it, though! I wonder whether there is danger involved in mining it? Thank you for the kind message.

    Thank you, Dean!
    Thank you Liz, going to Velddrif in April again?

  16. interesting story and i like the painting. you could probably put a book together by now!


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