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Nicodemus

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NaCl [Mar. 16th, 2005|10:19 pm]
Nicodemus
[Current Mood |sleepysleepy]

I've just finished a book titled, really, "Salt: A World History".

One might be tempted to dismiss salt as an odd subject but it has been an important driving force in trade for much of history. Enough so that the author, Mark Kurlansky, wrote a nice thick book of about 500 pages. It's interesting, assuming you like a gastronomic view of human history. It covers the ancient brine wells of Sichuan, where the Chinese harnessed natural gas furnaces about 1500 years before westerners. It talks about the links between the availability of natural salts and cheese regions of Europe. And there's the importance of salt for food preservation and how refridgeration led to the devaluation of salt as a commodity.

It's a fascinating book but also a thick tome through which one progresses slowly, with many incidental anecdotes and curious details. I somehow picture it as a Victorian book: thick, of an odd subject, and filled with stories as much as fact. The sort of book you'd picture Dr. Watson perusing on a wintry evening.

Anyhow, it's quite good, if you like that sort of thing. Here's a selection (somewhat edited) from the conclusion:
"After thousands of years of struggle to make salt white and of even grain, affluent people will now pay more for salts that are odd shapes and colors. Many people do not like Morton's idea of making all salt the same. Uniformity was a remarkable innovation in its day, but it was so successful that today consumers seem to be excited by any salt that is different. Gray salts, black salts, salts with any visible impurities are sought out and marketed for their colors, even though the tint usually indicates the presence of dirt."
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: crosscheck_fox
2005-03-17 07:30 am (UTC)
Odd you should mention that. I was watching a show on the History Channel this morning about salt. I was fascinated at the depth salt manages to penetrate into human history. They showcased a chapel built out of salt in Poland as part of a mine there that's been in use for over 700 years continuously. It was quite beautiful and showed me a new respect for what salt represents in our collective history.
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[User Picture]From: qatar
2005-03-17 10:19 am (UTC)
The library of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar has a collection of 1243 books, and Salt: A World History is one of them. It seemed like an odd book choice to me, so I'm glad to hear it's worth its ...

-- oh, I can't bring myself to say it.
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[User Picture]From: normanrafferty
2005-03-17 02:20 pm (UTC)
In Elizabethean England, salt shakers were tall and ornate to show off that you could afford salt. ^.^
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[User Picture]From: melskunk
2005-03-17 03:15 pm (UTC)
TASTY dirt, my friend, tasty dirt. There's some nice volanicly tainted salt I'd love to get from Hawai'i.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who knows that book, though I couldn't afford it so I did the skim in the bookstore.
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[User Picture]From: melskunk
2005-03-17 03:26 pm (UTC)
volcanically.. man I'm tired
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-03-17 05:41 pm (UTC)
No problem. I know the salt you're referring to though I've not tried it myself. If you get some, let me know how it is.
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[User Picture]From: melchar
2005-03-17 10:43 pm (UTC)

'Salt'

There is a solution for that! Pre-order it from half.com. That's what I did [my offering price was $3.00 - about $5.50 after shipping - and after about 8 months someone was willing to sell at that price. (My copy arrived last week and is on my 'to read' pile now - just in case someone wants to borrow it. :)
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[User Picture]From: nicodemusrat
2005-03-18 03:28 am (UTC)
I finally saw your icon on TV last night.

Ah, yes. Being both an Iron Chef and Futurama fan, it cried out to be one of my icons. :)
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