While salt is a staple in most homes, and while most diners enjoy a little salt on their dishes, I believe that Southerners eat more salty foods than people in other parts of the US of A. At least we did, and that’s probably because I am Southern. My family (and all the other Southern families that I know) ate waaaaaaay too much salt. But I have to confess that to this day, I still like salt. What is a meal without those tiny, white, salty flakes sprinkled on it? While salt gives food a nice, tasty, satisfying flavor, too much of a good thing can be bad. That’s the other side of the coin that I won’t address here.
And on that note, I will explain why I think we Southerners use tons of salt. Long, long ago, many housewives didn't have refrigerators in which to store their left-over foods; therefore, cooks added lots of salt to their dishes not only to season them but also as a preservative. If there is no refrigerator in which to store leftovers, then the food quickly spoils. We really didn't eat processed, packaged and canned food that sat on selves forever. Rather, our foods were fresh and in order to preserve meats, that requires a lot of salt. The "up" side is that though the meat is salty, it doesn't have other chemicals or preservatives added as foods have today. So for country folk without refrigeration in which to keep food, this is where salts comes in.
Actually, even though we are going to eat an entire dish the same day, women still add more than a dash of salt. I think this is done out of habit, but it goes without saying that many people just simply like salt. Old-fashioned cooks probably had no idea that the amount of salt in the beans was a bit much, but that's how strong traditions are. Apparently, the chef figured, "More is better and a little extra salt never hurts anyone." There is the belief that salt kills germs, keeps infections down and may kill tape worms and other stomach parasites.
Photo by Fotolia/Gresei
I watched the men folk kill hogs. The last thing they did was season the slabs of meat or "salt it down" with buckets of salt (and sometimes with sugar for sugar-cured ham). So butchers know what they are doing when they salt down the freshly-cut hog. You may not have any idea what happens if pork is left in an open space without any salt on it. If that happens, within a few days, the house is filled with the odor of stinking putrefied meat. Then, either the meat has to go, or we have to move out.
It is amazing how long meat can stay under those tiny, white crystals without spoiling. Actually, the pork that my dad cured would last all winter. Now, I'm not too sure if that same salted-down pork would last that long during the summer months, but it lay in the cold back room of our house all winter. So let's hear it for the salt.
Nevertheless, even with all of the bad “rap” about salt, I still like pork bacon for breakfast ... salt and all. That tradition of adding too much salt is still ingrained in me. I constantly remind myself that high blood pressure is not such a good friend and that only a dash of salt should suffice.