You can’t have lived in New England and not know about salt cod. Salt Cod as a dish has become an inextricable part of the history of the region. Salt Cod is part of the history of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, Jamaica in fact, every nation that touches the Atlantic owes its due to salt cod.
Salt cod, they say, started with the Vikings in the 9th century who dried it, and the Basques took it a step further and started drying and salting their cod in the 11th. Cod is a working fish. It’s the draft horse of the sea, not an Arabian. Cod isn’t the fish of stories and it’s not the fish of legends. It is no mighty Moby-Dick nor is it a magnificently free fighter such as Hemingway’s marlin in The Old Man and the Sea. It’s dinner, but one that sustained generations of seamen through the centuries and by virtue of all its virtues, has become the national dish of nations.
Cod contains 18% protein which rises to 80% after drying and salting. Fat doesn’t preserve well and cod is very lean, making it a good candidate for preservation before refrigeration. In these days it remains on the menu at fish markets and is traditionally bought salted and then soaked in a successive series of fresh water bowls to remove the salt and reconstitute the fleshliness of the fish.
A little history of this fishy-not-fishy process-
The production of salt cod dates back at least 500 years, to the time of the European discoveries of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. When explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in what is now Canada and claimed it for France, he noted the presence of a thousand Basque boats fishing for cod.
Salt cod formed a vital item of international commerce between the New World and the Old, and formed one leg of the so-called triangular trade. Thus it spread around the Atlantic and became a traditional ingredient not only in Northern European cuisine, but also in Mediterranean, West African, Caribbean, and Brazilian cuisines.
The drying of food is the world’s oldest known preservation method, and dried fish has a storage life of several years. Traditionally, salt cod was dried only by the wind and the sun, hanging on wooden scaffolding or lying on clean cliffs or rocks near the seaside.
Drying preserves many nutrients, and the process of salting and drying codfish is said to make it tastier. Salting became economically feasible during the 17th century, when cheap salt from southern Europe became available to the maritime nations of northern Europe. The method was cheap and the work could be done by the fisherman or his family. Wikipedia
|Drying of cod in 19th century Iceland. Source Wikipedia|
Salted cod is famous. But it wouldn’t have happened without salt. Salt is an essential human ingredient. It always has been.
Some of the earliest evidence of salt processing dates to around 8,000 years ago, when people living in Romania were boiling spring water to extract the salts; a salt-works in China has been found which dates to approximately the same period. Salt was prized by the ancient Hebrews, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Hittites and the Egyptians. Salt became an important article of trade and was transported by boat across the Mediterranean Sea, along specially built salt roads, and across the Sahara in camel caravans. The scarcity and universal need for salt has led nations to go to war over salt and use it to raise tax revenues. Source
There are different kinds of salt, each with various properties.
|A few of the kinds of salt:
Celtic salt, Kosher salt, Sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Refined salt. Source
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)
Salt is a very stable compound and retains its flavor for long periods when stored dry.
The Commenter said of Matthew 5:13,
Ye are the salt of the earth—to preserve it from corruption, to season its insipidity, to freshen and sweeten it. The value of salt for these purposes is abundantly referred to by classical writers as well as in Scripture; and hence its symbolical significance in the religious offerings as well of those without as of those within the pale of revealed religion. In Scripture, mankind, under the unrestrained workings of their own evil nature, are represented as entirely corrupt.
Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 19–20).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to salt. There is much more to be said of salt, much more. For example, did you know that salt was such an important commodity and fairly difficult to obtain, that Roman soldiers were paid in salt? And that the very word “salary” comes from that? (Salarii). And “worth his weight in salt” also comes from that? Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt is a treasure trove of information regarding salt.
Salt is in the Bible, not the least is the verse that is quoted above. Christians are to BE salt (and light). And in the Old Testament there was a salt covenant. Not much is explained regarding this particular covenant, but I suspect that there is a connection between the OT salt covenant and the NT Christian being salt. We’ll explore that more next time.