11. Salt A vital commodity

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Salt – A Vital Commodity


Salt was used extensively for preserving various foodstuffs, particularly fish and meat. Whilst smoking was also used to a certain extent to prevent fish and meat spoiling, it was salt that was commonly used on the western coasts of the British Isles. Salt would be imported in to Swansea in massive quantities to be used for dry-salting, brine-salting and pickling.


 Although salt was also produced locally, it was not in sufficient quantities to satisfy the massive demand. The extract here is from a customs account of 1587, and shows salt being imported from a popular source in France. Swansea has had a long association with the French ports.

A Dry Salting

Rub the pork thoroughly with salt paying particular attention to folds and bone ends. Cover the bottom of the pickling tub with salt and pack in the pork as tightly as possible, with plenty of salt between the layers of pork. In ordinary damp weather the salt will draw the meat, and in a fortnight the brine will have risen to almost cover the pork. Keep the pork submerged under the brine with a weight. In four months the pork can be dried off and smoked or used as pickled pork.

A Bristol Wet Pickle

Take 12 lbs. of salt, 4 gallons of water, 6 lbs. of honey, ¼ lb. of saltpetre, and 2 oz. of sal prunella (a special form of saltpetre).

Boil all together for ¼ hour, and let the liquid go cold. Pour into a tub and submerge the hams therein for at least four weeks preferably longer. After pickling dry and smoke thoroughly.

This type of wet pickle was popular with the ships of the Bristol Channel. It would last a long time and the recipe was exported with the early American colonists

Along the coast, salt houses would produce sea salt for local markets (hence the name Salt House Point for the eastern side of Fabian’s Bay). Typical Welsh sea salt would have been brownish-grey and roughly crystallised with a bitter tang, quite unlike the processed pure white product we are used to nowadays.

The recipes show some of the typical uses for salt in medieval Swansea.


Above: ‘In the Jonas of Swansey burthen of thirty tons wherof John Jenkyn, master from La Rochelle for Swansey,

Richard Sadler of Swansey , merchant for twenty four tons of Baye salte ‘


Pork lent itself particularly well to preserving. Medieval Swansea would have had considerable numbers of them as they could be easily fed on scraps or given grazing in the surrounding woodlands. The small half wild swine that the Normans favoured were quickly bred into a friendly, sociable creature that thrived on roots, tree barks and fish waste.

Pickled Mackerel

Take six large fish and clean thoroughly. Fill the cavities with salt and some pepper, nutmeg and mace. Remove the heads and tails and lay end to end (e.g. like sardines).



The View for Sunday 4 December 2000

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