Salt: A Love Story
First comes love, then comes marriage…and then in one singular evening the unexpected happens that, eventually, changes everything.
This is the love story (of sorts) of Jim and Darcy Michener of Sitka, Alaska.
The unexpected happened in 1999 while honeymooning in a cabin on a remote Alaskan island. After unintentionally leaving a pot of seawater o
n the wood stove overnight Jim made an unexpected discovery – salt crystals forming on the surface of the water. Intrigued, he and Darcy evaporated the remaining water and took their “handcrafted” sea salt home as a memento of their honeymoon. Returning to that remote cabin became an anniversary tradition where each year they would make a new batch of “anniversary” salt to use in their kitchen.
The accidental discovery of salt making led them to a new life of culinary discovery and a passion for natural foods that only strengthened their relationship. The two continued to tweak the process of salt making – for years – discovering along the way it is both a science and an art. Then in 2005 everything changed when they got serious and took steps to pursue their dream of producing North America’s first flake style sea salt.
Jim (at the time a fishing guide in summer and a cold weather survival instructor for the U.S. Coast Guard in winter) hauled gallons and gallons of seawater to their kitchen where he tenaciously tweaked the evaporation process to get the perfect flake. Darcy (then an office administrator) let her inner chef come out to play, experimenting with local, seasonal flavors and infusions. The result? Their perfect pyramidal-shaped flake salt that looks like freshly fallen snow. It’s crisp texture, pure clean taste, and a variety of flavors that hail from and celebrate the natural beauty and bounty of the Alaskan wilderness.
In 2007 the couple realized their dream when they officially launched, Alaska Pure Sea Salt Co. Eight years later, they are 100 percent immersed in their growing business, supplying salts to some of the country’s best chefs who know, like Jim and Darcy discovered, good salt does matter!Like any great food, it’s the quality of the ingredients that make the difference, and often that means seasonal and local. Same with salt. With Alaska Pure, you know the exact ingredients – pure Alaskan seawater. Period. Interestingly there is also seasonality to the water they harvest – rich and full of life in the summer and crystal clear in the winter. While Jim has played around with creating distinct salts from each season’s water, he has found it would take an incredibly sensitive palate to discern any difference. Instead Alaska Pure celebrates the seasons in their flavored salts. In spring Jim and Darcy hustle during a brief two-week period to gather the emerging tender young tips of Sitka Spruce (Alaska’s state tree) to create their lovely piquant salt that is the perfect complement to seafood, like Alaskan salmon. In summer they harvest wild blueberries, climbing up to 2000 feet into the mountains (carefully avoiding bears), to create their deliciously fruity, deep red salt that is unbelievable on anything chocolate. Throughout the year they make an exquisitely smoked salt in a custom-built smoke house using alder wood, a hardwood abundant in Sitka.
How best to use this finishing salt? Jim stated it perfectly when he said, “simple and seasonal is best…a slice of watermelon is absolutely AMAZING sprinkled with our sea salt!”
My simply seasonal favorite is a slimmed down veggie “BLT” using their Alder Smoked salt. Skip the bacon and sprinkle a thick slice of juicy ripe tomato with the salt, cracked black pepper and add the rest of the sandwich fixings on toasted grainy bread. Sublimely addictive!
However you decide to enjoy Alaska Pure Sea Salt, whether simply or sublimely like with our Molten Lava Cake, you will experience a labor of love…love of place, of season, of nature, of good food, of the art of creating something truly special, and the love that is Jim and Darcy’s relationship, which started it all!
Originally written for and featured in TABLE Magazine, Fall 2015 issue.