I remember when salt came in a cylindrical container with the drawing of a young girl holding an umbrella and the tagline "when it rains, it pours." If we were canning, we'd reach instead for the box of kosher salt - super small salt rocks but bigger than the fine grains of table salt. Colors? Both were white.
Now before I throw a steak on the grill I grind Northwest Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt on the meat and when making Deviled Eggs, I crush a light smattering of Himalayan Pink Salt Crystals in the cooked yolk and mayo mixture. Salt in rainbow colors and from distant lands has become mainstream. But what might have originally struck many of us as the most unique of pairings - sweets and salt has become commonplace in Southwest Michigan.
"Our Salted Dark candies are a great pairing because the juxtaposition of the sea salt with the rich, velvety sweetness of our dark chocolate enhances and intensifies both tastes--which are usually thought of as opposites" Tina Buck, owner of the Chocolate Garden in Coloma, tells me.
Keith Hammond, owner of D. W. Hammond Chocolate and Fudge in Coloma, finds that his chocolate barks with nuts and sea salt and also his white, dark and milk chocolate Michigan Squares which he sprinkles with sea salt, are a huge hit at the wine tastings he's done in the last month.
"We have all these great salts like Hawaiian Black, Chipotle Raspberry, Habanera, and Pink Himalaya," says Colleen Froehlich, owner of Froehlich's in Three Oaks. "I use the Habanera salt on big wedges of sweet watermelon in the summer. I make mango cups which are literally fresh slices of mangos with freshly squeezed lime and Black Himalayan Salt. Our caramel cookies are made with dulce de leche, short bread and a sprinkling of salt."
Froehlich remembers that combination of salt and sweet as a favorite since she was young.
"It's as simple and common as putting salt on freshly picked garden tomatoes, sweet from the summer sun," she says."Funny thing about trends, the 'it' thing often exists long before anyone realizes it. People have been enjoying sweet and salty together for a very long time -- think chocolate covered pretzels," says Buck.
"Nothing new there, it's the salt that makes those so good. There is also a bit of salt in most chocolate chip cookie recipes. Check the Tollhouse recipe, the first chocolate chip cookie. But it isn't until someone calls it out and labels it that it becomes a trend."
Indeed, salt water taffy has been around since 1889 when David Bradley's Atlantic City candy store was flooded by a major storm leaving his taffy covered with - you guessed it - salt water. Bradley thought his candy was ruined, but customers loved the taste.
"Most of our customers are foodies so they are more food-aware than the average person," says Buck. "But occasionally, we get someone who has never heard of sweet and salty together and they are shocked by the notion. I know they've encountered it before, they just don't know that have."
The emergence of salt as a major player in the culinary scene may be why the pairings of sweet and salty suddenly seem to be popular.
Salts can be smoked or roasted and also flavored with a variety of other ingredients such as herbs, spices and wine. Froehlich sells a rosemary salt as well as Italian and French Garden Medley.
"We have a variety of salts," says Linda Srazee of Perennial Accents in downtown St. Joseph naming some of their selections including Hawaiian Black Lava, Murray River Salt and Truffle Wet Salt.
The following recipes were provided by Colleen Froehlich of Froehlich's.
Caramel Shortbread Cookies
1 can Dulce de Leche (found in the Hispanic Section of the grocery isle)
Combine in mixer till fluffy/creamy:
3/4 stick butter, room temp (6 tablespoons)
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rum
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Beat all together just till combined, then form into a circle and roll out on floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick, with a rolling pin.
Cut with a round cutter to desired size.
Cut half the circles with another small shape in the center to expose filling, when finished. Bake on parchment lined cookie sheet in 350° degree oven for about 8-10 minutes.
When cookies cool, spread solid half with dulche de de leche then cover with the half with the center cut out. Dust with confectioners' sugar and if desired, Sprinkle middle with a bit of Habanera Salt or Fleur de Sel.
Michigan Mud Pies
In double boiler combine till melted:
1 pound unsweetened chocolate
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 pounds butter, cut up
1/4 cup espresso powder
Then in another bowl combine well with whisk:
9 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
Then add the melted chocolate and whisk very well to combine. Pour into 9 inch pie shells and bake at 375 for 45-50 minutes till puffed and slightly cracking (will fall when it cools). Then sprinkle the top with sea salt and top with fresh raspberries.