Blackthorn Salt – Gregorie Marshall – 24 August 2021
Who doesn’t have salt in their kitchen larder? It is the most fundamental of ingredients in almost every dish and, according to Greogorie Marshall, locally produced Blackthorn Salt can “transform the mediocre, enhance a range of flavours or add a suggestion of rolling moreishness and sophistication to any meal”.
Gregorie is the pioneering entrepreneur who established Blackthorn Salt and, in an engrossing, well-presented talk to the members, he described the origins of the company and the processes involved in producing this unique condiment. He began by reminding his audience of the long history of salt production on the Ayrshire coast and how traditional salt panning had tended to be concentrated close to coalfields for the fuel necessary to encourage evaporation. Examples are Newton, Craigie and Alyson salt pans to name a few. One can also see the old Maryburgh salt panhouses (now Maryborough) which remain standing only one mile away (on Prestick St Nicholas Golf Course) Many of these essentially small, family-run businesses disappeared after the introduction of the salt tax at the 1707 Act of Union although its repeal in the 1850s encouraged a minor revival.
Evaporation for sea-salt is only one of the three main salt-producing processes, the others being solution for fine-grained table salts and mechanical (explosion and excavation) for rock salt. Since none of these processes is easy for Scottish production, this gave rise to investigation of other methods for the creation of “artisan salts” and the eventual birth of Blackthorn Salt. Although the “graduation” (or “trickle”) process was first used elsewhere in Europe as far back as the 6th century, it was never entirely successful but, with research and modelling assistance from Glasgow School of Art, Gregorie discovered that branches of the blackthorn shrub offered a relatively easily obtainable trickle medium which created wonderful-tasting salt crystals. The unique process followed by Blackthorn involves slowly trickling West-of-Scotland sea-water down Scotland’s only graduation thorn tower using 100% west coast sea water and nothing else. According to Gregorie “When you taste Blackthorn Salt you taste nature – the sea, the winds and the thorns.”