Volume. XXI, No. 15
From the pastorís heart: Salt-Its nature 1
The value of salt is well illustrated in history. The British had naval power but not much salt, and the Portuguese had salt and fishing fleet but lacked naval power to protect its fishing boats from the French. Thus, England and Portugal formed an alliance which traded naval protection for sea salt. At the shores of America, the salt ships had to travel in convoys. Salt makers in North America kept their salt in the basement because they were very precious goods, and they watched over it day and night. During the war of independence, General William Howe, the commander of the British forces, successfully cut off Washington’s army from its coastal salt supply and captured Washington’s salt reserves, though Washington had dispatched the warning to his own army, “Every attempt must be made to save salt.” Before her independence, the Continental Congress passed several measures to encourage more salt production. In June 1777, a congressional committee was appointed to devise ways and means of supplying the United States with salt. To make the long story short, Mark Kurlansky argued that the independence war in America was for salt, and not to depend on others for salt. The French monarchy made a tax on salt called gabelle, which encouraged salt smugglers to bring foreign salt into France. A revision of the gabelle in 1680 made it a crime for an innkeeper to give a room to a salt smuggler. A repeat offender could be sentenced to death. The gabelous, the collectors and enforcers of the gabelle, checked individuals for salt. They tapped on anyone they were suspicious. Women often hid salt in their breasts, corsets, and posteriors. “Salt inspectors on the Loire would examine the cod shipments from Le Croisic for excess salt, making note of how much salt fell off of how many fish. If too much salt fell off, it would be reported” (Salt, 233).
It is rather funny to know that during the time of civil war in America, the Union navy attacked salt production along the Confederate coast. Salt production was so important to national security. Slaves had to work on long shifts to operate the production line twenty-four hours a day. So many slaves died in order to make salt. There was even a graveyard set aside for dead salt-making slaves. While shoving and bumping against each other to make salt, some of them slipped, fell into boiling pans and died. A small packet of salt became a fashionable gift. Family salt supplies were carefully hidden like precious jewels. When eating salted meat, people carefully brushed off every loose salt crystal for reuse. Great Salt Lake in Utah had no outlet and contained highly concentrated brine. Next to it is a flat, thick, and 100-mile-long layer of salt, which became a mainstay of the Mormon economy.
The believers of Christ are the salt in the world. Let us hope and pray that the world sees our values. Or, rather, we are able to show our values to the Lord by being salt.
Ernest Jones has aptly said about the importance of salt as following: “In all ages salt has been invested with a significance of far exceeding that inherent in its natural properties, interesting and important as these are. Homer calls it a divine substance, Plato describes it as especially dear to the gods, and we shall presently note the importance attached to it in religious ceremonies, covenants, and magical charms.” Salt has many uses. In 1920s, the Diamond Crystal Salt Company of St. Clair, Michigan published a booklet, “One Hundred and One uses for Diamond Crystal Salt.” Some of the examples are: (1) keeping the colors bright on boiled vegetables, (2) making ice cream freeze, (3) whipping cream rapidly, (4) getting more heat out of boiled water, (5) removing rust, (6) cleaning bamboo furniture, (7) sealing cracks, (8) stiffening white organdy, (9) removing spots on the clothes, and many more. However, the modern day salt industry lists more than 14,000 uses including the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, the melting of ice from winter roads, fertilizing agricultural fields, making soap, softening water, and many others.
Salt is important for human diet. For example, baby formula contains three salts: magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride. Chloride is essential for digestion and respiration. Our body will not function properly without sodium. Without it, our bodies will not be able to transport nutrients or oxygen, transmit nerve impulses, or move muscles, including the heart. Salt deficiency causes headaches and weakness, light-headedness, and then nausea. In fact, the long-term deprivation of salt will take a person’s life. Even animals must be fed salt. A horse requires five times more salt than human beings, and cows ten times. Salt was considered to be very precious, and in some cultures there were salt deities. Quite often, religious leaders organized salt gatherings.
The most important function salt performs is that it preserves. Until modern times, salt provided the principal way to preserve food. Food is not the only thing it preserved. Egyptians used salt to make mummies. Egyptians also preserved vegetables in brine or salt. One ancient papyrus says, “There is no better food than salted vegetables.” Curing flesh in salt absorbs the moisture in which bacteria grows. On Friday night, Jews dip the Sabbath bread in salt. Dipping the bread in salt is a symbol that the covenant between God and His people must be kept. In both Judaism and Islam, salt seals a bargain because it does not change but preserves other things. Indian troops pledged their loyalty to the British with salt. It symbolized loyalty and friendship. Because of its ability to preserve things from decay, salt protects anything from harm. Farmers learned to save their grain harvest from fungal infection by soaking the grain in salt brine. Because of this belief in salt protection, in France, until 1408, children were salted until they were baptized. As we can see, salt preserves. One of the major commercial uses of salt in the 13th and 14th centuries was to preserve herring, which was a part of the European Lenten diet. The medieval Catholic Church forbade the eating of meat on religious days. In the 17th century those religious days were dramatically increased and almost half the days of the year became lean days, which refers to days where food prohibitions were strictly enforced. Until Henry VIII broke with the Vatican, it was a law in England that the penalty for eating meat on Fridays was hanging. Salted fish was a perfect diet for those religious days. Vegetables were also put up in salt to be used throughout the winter. Bacon is one good example of salted meat. Here is a recipe to preserve vegetables by John Evelyn in 1699.
Take such as are fresh young and approaching their full growth [green beans]. Put them into a strong brine of white-wine vinegar and salt able to bear an egg. Cover them very close, and so will they be preserved twelve months.
My friends, what have you done to preserve your Christian testimonies and Christian doctrines? Are you the salt Jesus talked about in Matthew 5?