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The Iroquois were the first to discover the briny waters on the banks of the Onondaga Lake in nearby Syracuse, New York. Boiling the water in open kettles over fire, they created salt that became a valuable tool for trade with European settlers. One gallon of its water could be boiled down to about one pound of salt

By the late 1700s, extracting the salt was well on its way to becoming an industrialized process and a major source of revenue for the city of  Syracuse.

When The War of 1812 made it difficult to obtain salt from abroad, the planning and construction of Erie Canal got a big boost. In fact, locals nicknamed it “the ditch that salt built.”

During the Civil War, Northern forces took control of salt mines in Virginia and Pennsylvania – which meant that those living in the South could not get salt at any price. Some historians even suggest this contributed to the South’s eventual loss. So critical was the salt production in Syracuse that salt workers were exempted from both jury duty AND military conscription. By 1872 there were 4 large mills producing table salt and dairy salt, and collectively pumping out nearly nine million bushels of salt a year.

Most certainly when William Beekman had his original Mercantile in Sharon Springs, NY, there would have been barrels of Syracuse salt on display. And while the salt industry in upstate NY started to decline in the early 1900s (and, sadly, no longer exists,) one delicious reminder remains:  salt potatoes.

The salt potato originated in Syracuse when salt miners would bring a bag of small, unpeeled potatoes and boil them in the flowing brine for their lunch.  They are still a favorite throughout central NY, and easy to can prepare. Simply add 12 ounces of salt to the boiling water for each 5lb bag of potatoes.

Beekman 1802 wood-smoked finishing salts are available in the Mercantile.  Click here to learn more.

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  • By: John Taormina

    Supposedly the salt mines along the Great Lakes, because of their constant temperature and underground depth, were also used to store valuable artifacts such as museum artworks during World War II. Lots of history, both cultural and culinary, there. Mark Kurlansky’s book, “Salt: A World History” is an excellent and comprehensive source of information (“salt–the only rock we eat”).

  • By: Marian

    Just an additional note to Heather’s August 20TH post regarding salt production on Seneca Lake, you can purchase Seneca Lake Salt, flake style table salt from Java Gourmet Inc. in Penn Yan, NY. It’s a delicious finishing salt.

  • By: northcountryrustics

    I’m closer to Canada than Syracuse…but still Salt Potatoes where a staple in the summertime. And Although many recipes have been updated and made healthier… Salt Potatoes without melted butter just wouldn’t be the same.

  • By: Linda

    You should come visit me in Syracuse and I’ll take you to the Salt Museum. Yes, there really is a Salt Museum on Onondaga Lake!

  • By: Chris Burns (@XtopherBurns)

    Have you tried salt potatoes with the smoked salt? In Jersey, we don’t get salt potatoes…but can make them from fingerlings, etc. Am thinking of doing a batch with…I dunno…maybe a 5:1 ratio of smoked to regular? Any experience with that? Thanks, guys. Terry & Chris

  • By: Chris Burns (@XtopherBurns)

    Grew up in Salt City (Syracuse). Love the salt/Erie Canal/Western Frontier-was-the Susquehanna (!) history. And, yeah, love the smoked salt. Started with Hickory. Now have both. And the extra added pleasure of chatting with you both at the Merc a few weekends ago regarding same.

  • By: Joh F. Cruz

    Wow. Very informative. I had no idea of the history behind American salt. Reading this was a great way to start my morning. Thank you. It also0 reminded me to put new salt blocks in the goats pasture.

  • By: Heather

    Salt was so valuable throughout history that the word “salary” has originated from the ancient Roman word for salt.

    There actually is still a thriving salt industry in upstate NY. A very large salt vein is located 500-2800 feet below Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes region. That vein is mined for table salt, rock salt and fine culinary salt.

    The culinary bounty in NY State is a treasure!

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