Sunday, April 26, 2015

Salt from Laeso

By Rob Watson

The best story is from the salt processor, a former school teacher: Salt processing was begun in Laeso about 1100 AD when a subsurface source of concentrated brine was discovered there, and discontinued in the late 1600's when all the trees on the island were gone. In the mid 20th century the Danish forest service planted trees on the island. By the 1990s a few citizens decided to revive the old business and began excavating the old salt processing area. They eventually discovered most of the methods used formerly... boil the brine until the salt becomes dry. But the salt was brown and tasted bitter. The school teacher began researching. He found a mine in Germany that used a similar process but got good salt. He went there and watched the process and asked some questions. Turns out, the brine is heated at 80C until 2/3 of the water is gone, then reduce the temperature to 65C... afterwards slowly adding water and removing the salt that precipitates out for 6 days. "By then the remaining solution of water and calcium carbonate is brown and tastes like horse piss." to which our teacher replied "I don't know what horse piss tastes like." (This remaining water is then fully dehydrated and sold as "bath salts" (really!)) The good salt that comes out of the brine is wet and "fluffy" (I think something is being lost in translation on the fluffy part) It is then air dried in woven conical shaped baskets.

When the trees were all gone, the men of Laeso discovered they could go to their roof tops and spot ship wrecks on the margins of the island... a fine source of building materials and goods if no one survived... and a fine source of rent if any did survive (many homes had extra rooms to rent to survivors.) Records show 10 to twenty wrecks a year were common. On the highest hill in the island is a tower, nearly 30 meters tall, from which you can see anything around the island, except for the trees. Some years after this new source of income was developed, a newcomer to the island thought it would be nice to plant some trees. Mysteriously, the next day all the trees were found uprooted. (when Shirley's father emigrated from the island about 1916 it was still completely devoid of trees and tall bushes.)