The history of salt is billions of years in the making, has been described as a “primordial condiment” and is essential not only to animal life, but also many plant species. All of the world’s salt comes from dried up seas or active ones. As a rock formation, halite mines can be found wherever an ancient or modern ocean has flooded and receded from a landmass repeatedly for millions of years depositing layer after layer of evaporated salt crystals. The Mediterranean, once much larger has dried and refilled many times over millions of years to produce the extensive salt mines found below Sicily today. What is today the Top of the World, was once a seabed. Himalayan salt is prized for its pink hue owing to naturally present impurities in the salt crystal matrix.
Salt is a generic term referring to the compounds formed in acid-base reaction. Sodium chloride, or halite or table salt, the most prevalent salt on the planet, forms when hydrochloric acid reacts with sodium hydroxide to produce sodium chloride and water. Animal life needs sodium ions for proper cell function and health, and as such, animal life has a genetic hankering for salty foods. From primordial saltlicks to the modern salt shakers and salt grinders, salt’s importance cannot be overlooked.
Nor can its importance be overlooked in modern cuisine. During the low-salt (no salt!!) craze of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, recipes suffered greatly at the hands of well-meaning, but hopelessly confused cooks. In an effort to reduce salt consumption at any cost, salt was eliminated from breads, cookies and other sweets, and all but completely removed from savory dishes with disastrous results. Without salt, bread is a tasteless, spongy mess, its chewy texture and delectable flavor sacrificed to the No-Salt gods. What should have been sweet cookies and pastries were suddenly bland and pale imitations of their glorious counterparts.
Salt isn’t just salty. It’s a flavor enhancer. Savory dishes have a deeper, robust flavor because of salt, and sweet dishes have a more pointedly sweet taste with the addition of salt. We may think we are on the cusp of culinary greatness with our new-fangled salted caramels and other salted candies. But many decades ago, before salt was erroneously villainized, salted caramels and candies were prevalent and popular. We’re only just rediscovering our salted heritage.
Unless salt is meant to shine, front and center, such as seasoning a piece of meat, blanketing the top of a pretzel or sprinkled on candies, it should be finely ground so that it can disperse as evenly as possible throughout the dish. Soda breads, cookies, chocolate desserts and pies all benefit from finely ground salt.
Vital for cellular health and functioning and essential for tasty food the world over, the lowly salt crystal is once again having its day in the sun.
Mini Blueberry Pastry Cups
- Pastry dough recipe for one 9-inch pie, rolled to ⅛-inch thick
- egg white, lightly beaten
- 1¾ cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- ⅓ cup white sugar
- 1½ tablespoons corn starch
- 2 tablespoon orange juice concentrate or orange liqueur
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of finely ground kosher salt
- plain Greek yogurt or sour cream for garnish
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Roll the pastry dough to ⅛-inch thick and cut out four 6-inch circles. Lightly spray four wells of a 12-muffin muffin tin and ease each piece of pastry into each well. Fold the excess under and crimp. Lightly brush the edges with egg white, if desired, for better browning. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pastry shells from the pan and set aside.
In a small sauce pan, heat the ingredients for the filling over medium heat until they are thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Allow the filling to cool slightly.
Fill each cup with blueberry filling and garnish with a small dollop of cream or yogurt.