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Salt shaker made with volunteers at the Lion Salt Works
Fairland Collective 2019

Over the past 9 months Fairland Collective and Feast have been working with the Lion Salt Works Museum, a former open pan Salt Works in Marston, Cheshire. Active from 1894 to 1986, the Lion Salt Works produced salt by boiling and evaporating brine pumped up from beneath the Cheshire soil. The industrial production of salt saw Cheshire salt shipped to Canada, India, West Africa, South Africa, Central America, Denmark and New Zealand. Researching a history of the local salt industry and its contemporary resonance, Fairland Collective met with groups of volunteers during a number of workshops, lunches and a walk led by local forager Sam Webster. Feast Salt has grown from our initial contact with the museum and its volunteers, whose knowledge and stories introduced us to the complex histories of the area’s salt-shaped landscape. Beyond considering this landscape and its edible flora and fauna, we have brought together content that begins to explore and reflect upon geographical, cultural and political aspects of other salt formed geographies past and present - from coastal hinterlands to the manmade landscapes of industry and Empire.

In an article by Kirsty Black, master distiller at Arbikie, the salt filled landscape of Scotland’s Lunan Bay is evocatively described. Kirsty details the impact of the landscape on her work at Arbikie and the search to capture the environment through the use of local flora and fauna in the distilling process. Focusing on the botanical, an article by Professor Tim Flowers details the important role of salt loving halophyte plants for environmental research and their relationship to questions of future food production in the context of climate change. Likewise, David Eagle, of the British Sea Buckthorn Company, discusses his family’s experience of farming in the hinterland of the Essex coast and considers the potential of sea buckthorn, a plant thriving in areas with salt water, as a food crop. Further questions over our current and future food systems are raised in Caitriona Devery’s contribution on the history of salt production; its industrialisation and the current fight to save traditional saltmaking raises.

Elsewhere in the edition, multiple contributions discuss the salty landscapes of Portugal, India, Kenya, South Africa and the Caribbean, beginning to relate histories of money and power garnered through the production, distribution and ownership of salt. For instance, Sue Palmer and Shelia Ghelani’s text On Salt and Tax discusses the East India Company’s monopoly on salt in Colonial India, while Sneha Solanki’s Patra V.2 updates a recipe for Patra inspired by Gujarati Indian’s resistance to the British monopoly on salt. In a contribution detailing her artworks Gout Sel and Salinas, Katy Beinart relates the role of salt cod as a cheap protein for enslaved Africans on board ships bound for the Caribbean and North America.  

Another aspect of the edition sees the consumption of salt through an anthropological lens; looking at social etiquettes and rituals of dining. A number of contributions draw attention to various customs of salt use and present recipes for dishes in which salt takes centre stage, such as 'Below the Salt', a discussion on the place of salt at the dinner table and Fairland Collective’s detailed menu for 'The Great Salt'.  

Expanding on the theme of customs and rituals of salt consumption, the edition further includes the 1921 essay ‘The Symbolic Significance of Salt’ by the British psychoanalyst Ernest Jones. First published in a collection of essays on applied psychoanalysis, Jones’s text sets out in great detail the symbolic role of salt in folk practices across the globe. Interpreting their symbolic significance in relation to human bonds, sex and society, Jones unearths something of our enduring and vital relationship with salt to demonstrate its central importance to diet, society and culture at large. Many of the rituals and practices described by Jones are echoed within other contributions to Feast: salt, from a Cheshire folk song describing an annual ‘blessing of the brine’ to Laura Cuch’s documentation of Polish Easter Żurek soup with blessed salt, as well as the more bodily experience of salt – as a taste, a texture and sensory pleasure –in Karen Guthrie’s work 'Salty I, say. Just salty'.

Grown from our initial starting point of the Lion Salt Works and a walk through the local Cheshire landscape, research and preparations for Feast: Salt have covered much ground to bring together content that is diverse, eclectic and expansive. In so doing, it reflects something of the complex and enduring role of salt across geography, culture and industry at the point of their historical and continued contemporary entanglements.