The Republic of Karelia, situated along the coast of the White Sea in the north-western part of Russia (not far from the Arctic Circle), boasts pristine landscapes, with no major industrial plants, and a very cold climate: from fall to spring, its waters are frozen. All of these features help to preserve an almost perfect ecological balance.
The inhabitants of this remote region, the Pomors, have enjoyed a privileged and autonomous position, compared to the serf populations in many other parts of Russia, and thanks to this independency, they developed several artisanal industries. Pomorka salt production was one of the most important. Obtained by evaporation, and known also as “pomoryanka” and “moryanka” the salt has a mild taste and a milky color, due to the high levels of humic acids and micro-algae present in the White Sea.
A manuscript of the Stroganov merchants’ family from the XVII century, describes in detail the technique used to obtain Pomork salt. Another testimony dates back to 1137, when the Russian grand duke Svyatoslav Olegovitch issued a charter establishing a salt tax. The Pomors were the major salt suppliers in Moscow, and in many customs charters, the term "pomorka” is used to indicate the salt itself.
Once, it was produced by “icing” or by evaporation. In the first case, frozen salt tends to drop to the bottom, while less salty water rises to the surface. By repeating this separation process several times, the local communities are able to isolate the salt. The evaporation method, instead, is based on the cycle of tides: during high tide seawater floods into the long wooden pipes laid down along the coast, then collected into a vessel, creating a brine. That brine is then poured into the “tsren” (a cast-iron pan), resting on a stove. An experienced master, the “povar”, supervises the evaporation process with the assistance of a companion, the “podvarok” and a few other helpers. The povar cannot move from the stove, until the end of the process, which can last more than a day. The Povar closely watches the evaporation of the brine, which must not reach the boil, waiting for the moment when salt begins to be "born". A charred wooden stick is dipped into the brine: if it comes out covered with crystallised salt, the process is working. The process continues until it creates a thick sheet of salt (zasol), which is put on inclined shelves (“palati”) and left to dry for up for 2-3 days. Today, just the second method survives, with just one exception: the wooden pipes have been substituted by pumps.
Pomorka salt was traditionally used for salting fish in particular. The traditional recipe of salted wild salmon (“semuzhniy posol”), for example, contained Pomorka salt and laminaria of the White Sea. This salmon was very expensive, and considered a delicacy at royal (e.g. Ivan the Terrible) and other nobles’ tables.
Currently, the salt is mixed with locally sourced berries. This variant is rooted in a tradition of northern Russia to include a mix of berries in cabbage fermentation and fish salting.
In 2016, Slow Food started working to save Pomorka salt, including the product on the Ark of Taste and supporting the only on-going revival project for the salt, in Pongoma village, on Senukha Luda island. A saltern was designed based on archival documents, and it became operational in the winter bridging 2015 and 2016.
The main aim of the Presidium is to strengthen the cooperation with the urban settlement of Chupa (140km to the North, also on the coast of the White sea), where there is the possibility of building a saltern and a drying facility for both the salt and the berries. Indeed, demand for Pomorka salt is rising, but it is not yet being matched by an increase in the production, due to the logistic limits in such a remote area as the village of Pongoma.
White Sea coasts, Republic of Karelia, Russia.
Pongoma, Senukha Luda island
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