By Hannah Reich Berman
There is nothing more irritating than being duped. And duped is how I feel when I see fine-grained salt that is labeled “kosher salt.” Kosher salt is supposed to be used for koshering. It consists of large, coarse flakes of salt—not something that is so finely granulated that it looks like sugar.
There are probably many people who think that when something is labeled “kosher salt,” it means that what is inside is salt that is kosher. Not accurate! Salt is a mineral, and by that standard, all salt is kosher. But there are young folks today who have no awareness that initially there was a product that was called “kosher salt” for a very specific reason. This salt was so named because it was the salt that our mothers would use back in the days when they had to kosher their own chickens. There was no choice in the matter, because there was nobody else to do it for them.
My memory extends back to the 1940s when, because the chickens were not koshered for us, housewives had to do it themselves. As I recall, it was one heck of a messy job. At least that is how my mother described the ordeal. It was also time-consuming and not what I would call a labor of love. I can still picture my mother’s rough and reddened hands as she stood at the kitchen sink and slaved over that koshering process.
The chicken pieces had to be salted by hand and, after letting those pieces sit for a while, they then had to be soaked. It had to be done more than one time. What I recall so poignantly is that if my mother happened to have a cut on her hand or on a finger, she would wince in pain as the salt entered the opening. The flakes of salt were large and coarse—this was true kosher salt. It came in a red-and-yellow box, and I can clearly see that box in my mind’s eye. It remains a vivid memory.
In addition to the box of salt and a bunch of gross-looking pieces of chicken, there was a large pail for the soaking. There was also a large wooden drainboard. The board had slats or holes in it in order to let the salted chicken drain. All in all, it was one of the messiest productions I ever saw my mother involved in.
But those days are long gone. The chicken that we buy has been koshered for us, and that is a good thing because, remembering what my mother went through, I can honestly say that I would rather do without chicken for the rest of my life than deal with the koshering process.
Today, the Diamond Crystal company makes a product that they label as “kosher salt.” Why they call it that I have no idea. It is a disingenuous label. It is packaged in a convenient red-and-white, shaker-style cardboard can. But what is inside looks nothing like the salt that was once used for koshering. It is no different than ordinary table salt.
This bothers me because I resent it when someone messes with my memories. I do not even like the packaging of the true kosher salt, the salt with coarse, large flakes. Morton Salt makes just such a product, but they package it in a short and wide blue box. That also bothers me because it just feels inauthentic. I want to see the tall red-and-yellow box of my childhood, the one that used to stand on the counter in my mother’s kitchen. When I would see that box make an appearance, I knew what was about to take place. For that matter, I would also like to see that old metal pail, the slatted wooden drainboard, and, most of all, my mother’s chapped hands.
Some memories are not to be trifled with. That’s the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.