Gozitan Salt Pans

When it gets so hot here in Gozo, all you can think of is going to the beach. You don’t really care that your swimming costume might not be up to the latest fashion or if it’s late in the afternoon or that you need to do some housework. The water calls us….. and we are drawn to it, like buzzing mosquitoes are attracted by a blinding light.

Sitting in the waiting room at my physiotherapist, the wait can be long. As expected, long delay, but, i brought my laptop, and think about what to write next. Which food adventure shall I retrieve from the archive?

Suddenly interrupted by wi-fi signals! (weefee as some call it)…I spot one belonging to the Bishop’s Curia (church headquarters) just round the corner…. Am tempted to give it a go… many unusual church related passwords cross my mind… is it the heat?

Back to reality…. Back to Earth. Salt of the Earth!saltpans2-00665

Recently I was doing some work at the saltpans so I looked into salt production and it’s cultural and historical impact.

Salt is such an important condiment, not only for us Mediterraneans, but for all cultures and all countries. It is found on almost every table and in every kitchen.

Salt was found in Egyptian tombs and transported by salt caravans in the Sahara desert. It was used as a currency during the Roman Empire. Soldiers were paid in salt, which was equivalent to a currency at the time. You could barter, or actually pay in salt.  Today salt is used to preserve food, to clean, to season, to garnish​, as a flavour enhancer. Infinite uses for this magical ingredient.

Unfortunately I cannot remember any of this, but my mother says that the saltpans just opposite our Summer house in Qbajjar were run by her granddad and his brothers. In fact these saltpans are known as the ‘Lingi Saltpans’. Mum managed to find some old photos (attached). lingi saltpans-131Lingi is my family nickname from my maternal grandfather. Each family has a special nickname and this is the way we are primarily identified here on the island. So, if anyone wants to ask about anyone, first and foremost you are asked ‘minn ta min int?’ …kind of, which family do you belong to? Then the name, village, etc….. It’s very particular.

Sea salt is so important in Gozitan kitchens. We use it to preserve tuna, to make sundried tomatoes, for olives in brine, for preserving capers, not to mention the daily flavouring of our foods.

I am used to using sea salt only when cooking. Large white flakes that crunch in between your fingers when sprinkling it! How wonderful.  At this time of year, usually I go foraging for fennel seeds, then I add them to salt, which is later used to flavor roasts.lingi saltpans2-30

Hopefully, one of the forthcoming uploads (video clips) will be about salt, how it is harvested, and a dish I prepared using it. Gambas Planchas… griddled prawns. (RECIPE:- Drizzle the prawns with olive oil and place on a very hot griddle. Sprinkle with sea salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Cook on each side until the shells of the prawns change colour. Squeeze more lemon juice and serve.) This was filmed here in Gozo, in Zebbug to be exact.

Josephine was so helpful. The salt harvesting business in the Xwejni saltpans, belongs to her family. She is a truly modest, down-to-earth person that was so ready and patient with me and all my questions.

She explained how they first fill the large pans, let it evaporate for 7 days, then fill it into the shallower pans where it stands for another 7 before harvesting.

The salt is swept into mounds, where it drains for some time, then is collected into buckets to be taken for packaging.

Her ‘ancient’ father kept calling me pupa (doll)….bless him. Too much sun can really get you into some state…. Unless you are called to the water to cool off right? Should I have pushed him? 

Claire Borg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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