Medieval Monday: Salt Production

Salt making was mentioned briefly in last week’s post as a labor that began in June. It’s a staple that we take for granted, but producing salt could be a hot, labor intensive task.

Some areas along the sea had natural salt pits, where the sea flowed in at high tide, trapping water that evaporated in the wind and sun. Salt deposits were left behind which could be mined out. The most common method of salt production involved digging pits to access to underground springs full of brine, or collecting sea water, and using a boiling house to separate the water from the salt.

Salt production DenmarkBoiling houses were typically timber framed buildings constructed near the salt source. Huge salt pans made of lead were set on bricks over a hot furnace that required incredible amounts of fuel to heat.  Lead was used because the salt would not corrode it, and it would hold up to the intense heat, provided it did not come in direct contact with the flames. The brine or sea water was poured into the pan, and stirred as it was heated to boiling. First foreign bodies and impurities were removed, then the water was steadily boiled away. Any residue was removed with wooden rakes, and the salt was then dried out in baskets.

Course sea salt was typically used for preserving meat.  It penetrated the meat well, and had a sharp, sweet taste. Long boiling times were favorable for this type of salt production. Quick boiling produced the finer salt used for cooking.



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