Over the last couple of months, we have been continuing our salt making efforts, having first attempted the process during September's Big Dig.
We've succeeded in producing some very good quality salt over the past couple of months, which has been a very rewarding experience.
Here, 1722 WHG secretary Gareth Jones give us his thoughts on our revival of the Cockenzie salt industry, albeit on a modest scale ...
The Firth of Forth was at the centre of sea-salt production in the 16th to 18th Centuries but the industry had all but died out in the 1850s, as imported salt from brine wells and mines undercut the cost of salt made by boiling pure sea water using valuable coal. This industry has fascinated me for years, as there are so few identifiable remains of it visible today and yet it is the reason towns like Cockenzie and Prestonpans developed where they did, along the rocky parts of the shore near shallow coal seams.
This project has given us a chance to put 18th Century reports on the process to the test using a 1/3rd scale experimental pan incorporating most of the elements of those early structures, one of which was also at the centre of the archaeological excavations at Cockenzie Harbour. We were able to build the pan using a grant for Port Seton Community Council, good-will from several businesses and lots of voluntary labour. It was a very steep learning curve but we built and operated the pan throughout the Big Dig, learning with every boiling and, despite my initial doubts that we could sustain the temperatures needed, we were successful in producing several pounds of clear, white, flaky sea salt.
We have encountered the same problems as the early salt makers and tried to adopt the same techniques to solve them, including the addition of egg-white (as rancid bull's blood was unavailable to us) as a clearing-agent between each of the four boilings needed for each batch of salt. We were also able to capture other potential contaminants, including powder-scratch (Calcium Carbonate) using small pots placed in the four corners of the pan, just as was described in an account from the 1770s. We tried to record everything we did and will produce a full report on the process, including the failures.
The Big Dig and subsequent salt making days, have been a fantastic experience for me, not because I had a chance to do something I had thought about for quite some time, but because so many people came along and joined us. We are asked lots of great questions, not all of which we could answer, and so many of the younger visitors who attended with their schools actually came back to se us again, often bringing along their parents.
Our Cockenzie Sea Salt is available to purchase on request - please email us to order this fine artisan product. (Stocks are limited, but we can take pre-orders)