The Garden Gate: Salt has been and continues to be vital today

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Salt is important.  It is the only rock we eat. It has seasoned our foods for thousands of years and been used in countless other ways for a long time.  

It is mentioned in many places in the Bible, and is, as it has always been, a necessary part of our lives. Salt has many powers.  The interplay of salt and water is essential to life itself, and a proper salt balance is vital to our well being.

The powers of preservation of salt made survival possible for our ancestors in the wilderness, waters, and wastelands through which they passed in forging the world’s great trade routes.

While its use in the preserving of food has become less important with the invention of the uses of refrigeration methods, it is surprising how much we still depend on it in the processing of many foods, such as in curing meats, brining and pickling vegetables and freezing ice cream.

The power of salt to heighten and enhance food flavors is its greatest asset.  Sea salt is produced by evaporating sea water, exactly how the people in ancient civilizations did it. The water of the Dead Sea was a primary source of salt for people in that region and it is listed in the Bible in that context.

Salt also occurs in  some landlocked places and is mined in the same way as are other minerals.  For many years a flourishing salt mine has been located under a large part of Detroit.  Sometimes tours are conducted  through it as a tourist attraction.  This is the source of the salt scattered on highways and main streets to keep them safe for driving in several northern states because salt will melt large deposits of snow and ice.

Table salt is  usually pulverized mined salt, but sometimes it can include additives such as iodine, potassium or flavorings and salt is an important ingredient in almost any recipe, just as it has been for hundreds of years.

Midsummer is the beginning of the annual  apple harvest and the resulting activity of the countless cider mills across the country. Thousands of apples are pressed in cider mills across the country in late July and apple cider vinegar is one of the most widely-used types of vinegar in the world.

During the l4th century when epidemics such as the famous Black Death ravaged Europe, physicians carried an apple stuck with cloves and placed on the end of a stick or wand.  They held this before themselves as they entered a house of illness in an attempt to ward off infection.  This soon became the trademark of the medical profession.

A tremendous vogue for wearing or carrying pomanders sprang forth in the late l6th century.  Pomanders were originally apples stuck with cloves and rolled in spices.  Later they were made as hollow globes of gold, silver, ivory, or porcelain and perforated so the spices contained in them could release their scent.

Many portraits of Queen Elizabeth I of England show her holding  a pomander or wearing one fastened to a short gold chain and attached to the bodice of her dress.  Apple pomanders are still much used to scent linen closets, store with furs and to deter moths.

There are many varieties of apples.  The apple tree is one of the most important and most cultivated fruit trees in the temperate zone.  Apple trees have been grown for more than 3,000 years and the ancient Romans were familiar with 22 varieties of them.

The Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany gave a lavish feast banquet at which 56 varieties of apple were served in various forms.  Today, thanks to hybridization and cross-breeding by botanists, there are more than 650O horticultural forms.

Apples have played their part in legend, science, art and history since the days of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.  They were raised in the orchards of the Phoenicians.  In Greek mythology, one of Hercules’ goals was to obtain the golden apples of the Heperides, which were guarded because they were considered to bestow immortality.

Apples were  among the very first American exports to England, sent well before the American Revolution.
Jon Chapman, famous in history as Johnny Appleseed, later went traveling about Ohio in his role of itinerant preacher, planting apple trees wherever he went.  Even now, more than 100 years later, some residents in old Ohio towns will point with pride to a gnarled, ancient apple tree and claim that it was planted by Johhny Appleseed.

Apples are hard to describe.  They can be round like a Macintosh, or egg-shaped like a Delicious.  They vary in size, from a 2-inch crabapple to a 6 inch Rome Beauty. The flesh may be white in a healthy, or yellow in a Golden Delicious.  They vary from  crisp like a Northern Spy to mellow as  a Baldwin. Or they may be sweet as a Grimes Golden, or as tart as a wine-sap.

Apple skin is thin and glossy with color ranges from bright to russet to yellow to green. They are among our favorite fruits and have even become part of our everyday speech,  we say “the apple of his eye” or “an Apple for the teacher”, or “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

And then there are the products of apples.   Apple Cider vinegar. Apple butter preserves.  Applesauce.  Apple pie, or a baked apple with a scatter of sugar and a sprinkle of salt for a special treat.  Don’t forget the important sprinkle of salt.