how to make salt


Take a towel, or any piece of cloth—say, two yards long—sew the two ends together, hang it on a roller, and let one end revolve in a tub or basin of salt water; the sun and air will act the on cloth, and evaporate the water rapidly. It must be revolved several times throughout the day, so that the cloth is well saturated. When the solution is evaporated to near the bottom, dip from the concentrated brine and pour it in a large flat dish or plate; let it remain in the sun until the salt is formed; taking it in every night, and placing a cover on it. Each gallon of salt water will produce two and a half ounces of salt when evaporated.

p.s. To make salt requires a little patience, as it is of slow formation.

–John Commins, Charleston tannery, Charleston Mercury, June 11, 1862



Read Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History. (Or don’t, it’s long.)

Visit your family in California. Google “Los Angeles ocean water quality.” Read about a wonderful nonprofit that is trying to clean up LA’s beaches, but learn nothing useful in terms of cleanliness for salt making. Decide Malibu will offer the cleanest water, for no reason except that it seems like the cleanest water.

Borrow your mother’s car and, while you’re at it, four expired one-gallon water jugs from the garage’s earthquake supply kit. (Wonder what would happen if one drank water a decade after which it expires, and how it is, precisely, that water expires.)

Drive to Malibu. Park. Unload large backpack loaded with large, plastic jugs. Undress, have a swim, remembering how bloody freezing the Pacific water is, and then return to the ocean carrying two of the empty gallon jugs. Swim past the waves and push them under the water while you try to stay afloat and also try to avoid early breakers because waves carry dirt and you don’t want dirt in your salt water which will soon become salt. Slosh out of the water back to your towel, spilling heavy water as you traipse, bowlegged, over the hot sand. Screw on bottle caps. Repeat with jugs #3 and 4.

Lie on your towel to dry. Tan?

Laugh when, after a surfer struts by and eyeballs your setup, he calls, “Don’t get dehydrated today!”

Open large backpack and load four gallons of water into the backpack. Try again with three when you learn you cannot carry four gallons of water on your back and still walk straight up a very unstable rock jetty.

Drive home. (Preferably during rush hour.) Rinse the dust out of your grandmother’s 10-pound steel kettle. Filter water through pillow case. (First, ask: “Mom, do we have any cheesecloth? I’m supposed to filter the water through cheesecloth.” Mom: “Nope.” Me: “Do you think a pillowcase will work instead?” Mom: “Sure.” Me: “Wait! Will a pillowcase filter out the salt?” Mom: “Hmmm. I don’t know.” Stare at each other. Think this through for ten or twelve seconds. Realize, with some chagrin, that if de-salinating water were this easy, LA wouldn’t have to steal water from Colorado.)

Boil salt water.

Turn heat down. Simmer salt water.

Open windows when kitchen steams up.

Simmer, simmer, water. Billow, billow, steam.

Watch, in the evening, and then the next morning, and again the next evening, how the water level sinks, line by crusty line. Watch the water become milkier, white, crystallize.

Wait. Simmer.

Salt. Slushy salt crystals, a salt-sludge.

Remove salt sludge, spread in pan. Dry. Wait. Dry. Taste. Salt. It is SALT! (Dad: “Well, what did you think would happen?”)

Stash bag of white crystals in bottom of carry on for flight from LAX to TUS. Slide through security undetected.


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