Making sea salt on Kauai’i is one of those rare ancient folk traditions that has survived the past century’s massive influx of outside influence. It is a tradition that is today still being passed down from parents to children. It was a part of life that was brought to the Hawaiian islands centuries ago, by the people who migrated here from their unknown islands to the south. The salt ponds on Kauai’i are still being tended the way it has been done for centuries. A few changes have been adopted, like the plastic bucket that is strapped onto the end of a pole for dipping water from the salt wells, instead of a coconut shell. On our last visit to the island, David and I met Michael Kali, a salt pond tender. Michael has been taking care of his family’s ponds since he was a small child, when he was brought unwillingly by his parents to work the ponds. Now that he is grown, he spends a lot of time at his family’s ponds, grooming them, mending fences and equipment, harvesting the salt. He generously offered us some but we were without containers to bring it away in. But David suddenly took his hat off and offered it, upside down. It worked well.
Part of the salt pond tradition is that they are to be handed down to family members; this means that they are to be in the possession of native Hawaiians only. Also, the salt is never to be sold; just used or given away. In this spirit we received our gift, and we treasure it.
How do you use the salt? ”You heat up the grill real hot”, Michael says. “You take a thick steak and throw a handful of salt on it, rub it it. Then turn it over and throw another handful of salt on it, rub it in. Grill it. That’s ono (real good)!”
Now you ask the perfectly reasonable question: how do you use this idea, when to get this kind of salt you have to go to Hawaii, hang out at the salt ponds until you make friends with someone who will give you some? Well, this idea works quite nicely for anything you can produce yourself. Any herb, dried, is perfect for this use. Rosemary, hand-rubbed sage, thyme, oregano, basil, tarragon are especially good.
Your family tradition may be very simple, like cinnamon sugar for toast, or home grown dried oregano or rubbed sage. Or it may be something more exotic such as Baba’s Macedonian barbecue rub, or hand-harvested salt from your family salt pond.
Whatever it may be, or whatever you wish it may be, fill these little favor jars and send them home with your guests as a wish to share a little bit of your life with them.