Pomorka Salt was last produced in 1937 but a saltern designed based on archival documents has brought the salt back to life.
Today Russia officially joins Slow Food International’s Presidia project thanks to the launch of the first Russian Presidium: Pomorka Salt. For centuries this salt was one of the most important artisanal products of the Pomors, inhabitants of the region along the coast of the White Sea in northwestern Russia. Pomorka salt began to decline due to the appearance of cheaper salt from southern Russia, and many former “salt villages” were abandoned.
In 2016, Slow Food started working to save Pomorka Salt by supporting the only ongoing revival project for this product in Pongoma village on Senukha Luda island. A saltern was designed based on archival documents, and it became operational in the winter of 2015-2016.
“To become the first Presidium in Russia is probably the most important stage in the development of our small business,” says Olga Yagodina, coordinator of the Presidium. “This event will provide additional opportunities for reviving and expanding the antique traditional production in distant and abandoned but ecologically and culturally unique regions of Karelia. We are infinitely glad that, thanks to the support of Slow Food, we will be able to supply the Russian and world market with a high-quality, exclusive product—Pomorka Salt—and we will try to be worthy of the great honor of being a Russian Slow Food Presidium.”
The Presidium has six producers at the moment, and there are plans to open a new saltern in Chupa, 140 km to the north on the coast of the White Sea.
Pomorka Salt was traditionally used for salting fish. The recipe for salted wild salmon (semuzhniy posol), for example, contained Pomorka Salt and Laminaria (kelp) from the White Sea. This salmon was an expensive delicacy featured on the tables of noble and royal families. Currently, the salt is also mixed with locally sourced berries (cloudberry, crowberry, cowberry, etc.). This variant is rooted in the northern Russian tradition of including a mix of berries in fermentation of vegetable and fish salting.
The production of salt from the waters of the White Sea dates back to the 8th century. In the 14th century, salt produced in the Pomors’ usolia appeared in customs charters as Pomorka salt. Starting in the 15th century, the production of pomorka was closely associated with the activities of the Solovetsky Monastery, which employed over 700 people in the salterns along the coast. For many centuries Pomors were the main suppliers of salt to Moscow.
Traditionally the salt was produced with two methods, “icing” or evaporation. The “icing” process is based on the fact that, when the sea water freezes, fresh ice forms on the surface, and the water left on the bottom becomes more and more salty. Repeating the process of freezing and removing the upper ice, Pomors managed to obtain a solution with a high salt concentration. For evaporation, water was collected by a network of wooden pipes laid along the coast: During high tides, the pipes filled with sea water, which was collected and poured into a tsren (a cast-iron pan), resting on a stove. An experienced master, the povar, supervised the evaporation process with the assistance of a companion, the podvarok, and a few other helpers. The povar was unable to leave until the end of the process, which lasted more than a day. He closely observed the evaporation of the brine, making sure that it did not reach a boil and waiting for the moment when salt was “born.” The raw salt was laid out on palati (wooden shelves) for drying. Today, only the second method survives, with just one alteration: Pumps have replaced the wooden pipes.
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Slow Food is a global grassroots organization that envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it, and good for the planet. Slow Food involves over a million activists, chefs, experts, youth, farmers, fishers, and academics in over 160 countries.