There is an old fairy tale that tells of a king with 3 daughters. The king, being vain, asks each daughter how much she loves him. The older two immediately say they love him more than gold and precious jewels – this pleases him greatly. The youngest princess becomes thoughtful and finally says she loves him more than salt. Salt being plentiful and cheap, he is so insulted he banishes her from the kingdom.
Instantly, all the salt in the kingdom is turned into gold. At first people rejoice at their increased wealth, but without salt to eat, sickness strikes and the king himself becomes gravely ill. His youngest daughter, hearing of her father’s illness, rushes to be by his side. She carefully feeds him bread and salt upon which he recovers and begs her forgiveness for his foolishness at not understanding the true value of salt. He and his daughter are reunited and all live happily ever after.
There are of course many variations of this story but salt – we’re not at all surprised! – turns out to be the hero in all of them.
THE TRADITION OF BREAD & SALT
In many parts of the world, offering bread and salt is a traditional form of welcome and hospitality. In the Arab culture, eating bread and salt with another is symbolic of an alliance between the two people; expressed in the Arab phrase ‘there is bread and salt between us’.
In Germany, bread and salt are given at a wedding to symbolise a lasting alliance between spouses and also as a gift when moving house, wishing the home-owners prosperity and fertility.
In Russia, the old tradition of expressing hospitality towards guests (especially high-ranking ones) with bread and salt is represented in the Russian word for hospitality ‘Khlebosolny’ (literally translated as ‘bready-salty’) and guests will then respond with the wish ‘May salt and bread never leave your home.”
Today, while these customs are not practiced so often in daily life, the ritual of bread and salt still occurs at weddings whereby the bride and groom break off pieces of bread, dip them in salt and feed each other. These actions symbolize that they’ll never be without the necessities of life and they will always take care of each other.
BAKING BREAD WITH SALT
Mark Bitterman, author of the salt manifesto ‘SALTED’ tells us that ‘the structure of bread is built on gluten, the protein in wheat doughs. Gluten is strengthened by salt which encourages the protein strands to bond more thoroughly. Most bread recipes call for salt (usually in a quantity of about 2% of flour weight) which both improves the flavour of the bread, as well as its texture and rise. Unrefined salts that contain calcium and magnesium have been shown to improve the strength of gluten better than salts that are just pure sodium chloride.’
This month we’re celebrating bread and salt. George Herbert said ‘Of all smells, bread; of all tastes,salt.’ There is no doubt they belong together; what could be more delicious than warm, fresh wholegrain bread dipped into extra virgin olive oil strewn with a generous sprinkle of salt?
And as Fritz Schoon of De Oude Bank Bakkerij, Stellenbosch and Chef Christiaan Campbell of De Oude Werf Restaurant say in their conversation about baking, https://www.facebook.com/thecaptureguru/videos/1868181450106284/ really good bread starts with just 3 ingredients: the flour (from locally grown wheat, stone ground with no preservatives or bleaching) water and good salt.
Let’s get baking!