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those little wooden boxes for salt

  • LNG212 Jun 16, 2009 04:03 PM

I am always browsing for cooking stuff; arent' we all! Many times I have seen those little wooden boxes for salt. Most recently I saw a beautiful one made of olive wood. But I have several question that I'm hoping all you knowledgeable CHers can help me with.

1) what purpose does a salt box serve? is it just for convenience to have the salt on the counter or something more important having to do with the salt itself?
2) does it matter what kind of wood it is? (I guess not if the answer to above is "convenience".)
3) can one put any kind of salt (kosher, sea, etc.) into any box?
4) this one is especially for fellow New Yorkers or other residents with small kitchens: is this something that I won't mind using up precious counter-top space for? Does any cook with a small nyc kitchen use one? And if so, have you had any problems with bugs?

I am really fascinated by these little boxes. (Can't you tell?) They seem like something some old world cook would have on the counter near the hearth while cooking. I sound a little nuts. Anyway, I like them but hesitate to buy one.

Thanks!

LNG

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  1. LNG,

    1) A salt box just makes it easier when cooking so you don't have to dig in your cupboard for a pinch of salt.
    2) I don't think it matters what kind of wood it is.
    3) Any kind of salt is fine in a box as long as you would need it on the fly.
    4) I can't answer the first part to that one but as for the bugs there will be no problems with them. After all, the reason for curing meats with salt was to keep germs from growing in the meat and I don't know of any bugs that like to crawl on pure salt.

    1 Reply
    1. re: paulc1978

      Thanks so much. I think I would like to get one. And you're right, it definitely would make adding a pinch of salt much more easily accomplished without fishing for the box. The bugs I was worried about are roaches - the scourge of us ny-ers; but I totally see your point now.

    2. A salt cellar (or salt pig) and a good pepper grinder are indispensable. I recommend something with a lid like Alton Brown's version:

      http://catalog.fullpond.com/altonbrow...

      2 Replies
      1. re: sobriquet

        I use the salt cellar in the link. It lives next to my cooktop and I can't recommend it highly enough. I find it more ergonomic (although less attractive) than the traditional salt boxes I've used, since it has a "trigger" that you use to open the lid with your non-pinching hand.

        1. re: sobriquet

          I used one of these styles for years. Inexpensive(I think I paid $15 in a kitchen store) and functional, easy to clean.

          I replaced it last year with an Emile Henry salt cellar. The new one doesn't function any better or worse but I loved the new fig color they came out with so splurged.

        2. Between you and me, I suffer from the same browsing/shopping obsession when it comes to kitchen gear. Last year, I bought one of those little olive wood boxes with a swing lid, thinking it would be cool to keep on the counter. I was just being silly and throwing my money away.

          For one thing, my fingernails are too long to make the "pinch" method of salting while cooking efficient or even hygienic. The salt stays under my nails and grosses me out. I am used to working with the manufacturers original box packaging, pouring a little into the palm of my hand so that I can eyeball the amount, and adding it to the food. The salt box does not allow me to do that. In the case of kosher salt, I add it to small jars that pour. Second, I am not comfortable continuing to reintroduce my hands (which are clean and frequently washed during cooking) to the salt supply. It can't possibly be as hygienic to touch the salt over and over.

          So, it is now in my closet in a spice rack. Unfortunately, it is not a great spice container, as it does not close well (it is meant to have a prominent place in your mise en place), so I often find myself cleaning salt off the shelf because it was inadvertently tipped and spilled.

          No, unless you are used to adding salt using the pinch method, a la TV chef, don't bother. But it really is cute...

          3 Replies
          1. re: RGC1982

            If you can find me an example of a kitchen bacterium that can live on pure salt rocks, then I will stop reaching into my salt cellar with my grimy hands.

            I wouldn't use one for fine salt (my pinches are way too erratic to be trusted with regular table salt - coarse salt is much more forgiving in that regard), but my mom gave me a salt cellar for Christmas a couple of years ago and it has quickly become one of my favorite things in my kitchen. The one I have is ceramic with a wooden lid and designed to be wall-mounted, but since the most convenient/logical wall is ceramic tile, I keep it perched on the back of my stove and loaded with kosher salt. I have a very small kitchen (albeit in Toronto, not NYC), and wouldn't dream of putting my salt away.

            1. re: Wahooty

              My comment had to do with the salt under my nails, not the bacteria that might live in salt. I agree that nothing is likely to live in the salt itself.

              However, with long fingernails, other food stuff and grime can be introduced. If I had just been breading cutlets, for example, even after using a brush, some egg/flour/breadcrumb goo is under there if you look carefully, so the possibility of introducing some foreign item to the salt definitely exists. This, however, is my complaint because I choose to have long nails. This is probably not a problem for many others.

              1. re: RGC1982

                Or there are surgical gloves. I always wear them when working with meats, fish or poultry, then take them off as soon as I'm done. No problem with clean hands in salt!

          2. I am usually hesitant about adding new doodads to my kitchen, but after seeing a photo of a salt pig once, I knew I wanted one. A a few years later (this was not an impulse buy!) I bought one in a kitchen store.

            I love my little salt pig! It's made of a ceramic material, comes with a matching little ceramic spoon (I'd estimate it holds about 1/4/teaspoon), and unlike the box in question, has no lid, but an oval opening in the front. This doesn't seem to be a problem: As previous posters mentioned, no bug has ever seemed to have an interest in taking up residence inside.

            The salt pig takes up very little real estate on the kitchen counter; sometimes it lives on the top of the instrument panel of the stove. I have kept both kosher and regular salt in it.

            Whenever I need to measure out salt, I reach right into the salt pig with a measuring spoon. (I do use it for pinching salt with my fingertips, but only occasionally .) I find this much neater, easier and more convenient than trying to aim the pouring spout of a carton of salt at a bitty little measuring spoon and pouring salt onto the counter beneath as well as into the spoon.

            1. I have used a small, antique, unlidded, box for kosher salt for more than twenty years. It holds about 2 C of salt. When I have fingernails, I keep a spoon in it to help with the pinching problem. There has never been a bug in my salt that I know of and cannot imagine any bug making a bee-line for salt.

              When I lived in a tiny (read: 900 sq ft) house in oldtown Alexandria VA and had a Ken & Barbie kitchen, I nailed the box to a wall.

              I wouldn't be without my salt box if I can help it. Actually, now I have two. I keep a French olive lidded canister on the island for prep, etc there to save a couple of steps over to the cooktop each time I need salt. Ditto for peppermills.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sherri

                I did a similar thing for measuring. I keep two little scoops in the salt, one is wood and measures 1/2 tsp, the other is metal and measures 1 tbsp. I keep my nails short so a pinch is a pinch of my fingers. The only time I've ever found anything other than salt in my saltbox (vintage 1960's) is when I left the lid up and as I moved the pepper grinder from it's perch on the counter over to the dish I was making a tiny bit pf pepper fell from the bottom of the grinder into the salt, easily removed with the little scoop.

              2. I use these: http://www.beehouseteapot.com/img/be%...

                I have 3 in different colors. One is sea salt in a table grind. One is sea salt in a kosher grind. And the remaining one is Penzey's Sunny Paris blend. I use them constantly. They sit on the top of my flat oven hood so they're right at hand. I can flip up the lid and reach right in the generous opening (and I do reach and pinch rather than measure).

                1. How one salts is a matter of preference. There are people who use "table salt" in a shaker. Some grind their salt as needed. And then there are those of us who use salt boxes. I keep kosher salt in mine, and I keep right next to my cook top. Mine is ceramic. Well, it matches my every day china and looks like this:
                  http://www.bluedanube-direct.com/cach...
                  As you see, it has a wooden lid on a ceramic salt box.

                  I'm a little unsure about using a wooden salt box simply because wood (or at least most wood) can absorb and pass flavors. But salt will dry things out (it is, after all, a preservative), so these two factors may cancel each other out.

                  I think the critical thing is that you go with what you want and what you like. I mean, if you buy it and decide you don't like it, you can always use it to store earrings or dental floss. '-)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Caroline1

                    <<you can always use it to store earrings or dental floss>>

                    Now that's the best advice. :) Thanks for that. And to all for your thoughts as well.

                  2. I use a glass salt cellar from crate & barrel.
                    It holds an ample amount of salt and can be washed in the dishwasher.

                    It was very inexpensive as you can see in the link.

                    http://www.crateandbarrel.com/family....

                    1. LOVE my salt pig- it's this one http://www.blisshome.us/product.asp?p...
                      by Nigella - in black.
                      It looks fantastic on the counter, it lets me easily reach in and not fiddle with a box over a hot pot. I only keep a week's worth of salt in at a time because I like to wash it every week (cats & dogs = flyin fur) and I think the price is right compared to the Emile Henry one and doesn't look like a turtle neck... (not that there's anything wrong with that!

                      )

                      People are drawn to my black salt pig! I call her 'Jasmine'.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Boccone Dolce

                        omg! I so love that you've named it/her. That is just perfect. Our vacuum has a name. And when we recently rented a car with gps, that got a name too. Now I totally have to go around naming my beloved kitchen items. That will show that they truly are loved. Thanks so much for that (and for the link too). Did you see on the bottom of that link they have a connected pair of "piglets"?

                        1. re: LNG212

                          Ha! Yes LNG I have seen the piglets- they are adorable. I recommend naming most things because it makes one sided cell phone conversations very exciting for eavesdroppers "Did you get Walter fixed yet? He keeps leaking on the floor. No- I didn't try stuffing cotton in him. Should I buy some duct tape too?"
                          Have fun!

                          Anyway- I originally wanted to get a box-type of salt cellar but the prices seemed too crazy. I have very long nails but this style is the perfect size for reaching. I hated the idea of taking off a lid every time.

                      2. I just use glass jars.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                          Me too. I keep fine and coarse salt near in regular spice jars near the stove, and stow away the large containers. The lids keep out moisture, the jars take up very little space, and it's easy to tell which salt is which.

                        2. I'd think anything with a lid would be a hassle, but I love salt pigs. I have a traditional one (from Fantes) by the stove and a Nigella (in the pale blue, not the black) on the lazy susan on the dining counter. Started down the salt road years ago with a Perfex grinder, which we still love, but kosher salt for most stuff is cheap and nice. I never really thought about problems with salt in the fingernails, but a little salt spoon would fix that. I have a little wooden one that came with a bottle of moist grey salt (which is so incredibly good that dealing with the hassle of a lid is worthwhile!). If you like the little olive box, go for it. I had the same attraction to a little olive box with a slide in grater on top for hard cheeses. I love it. It stays on the counter and gets plenty of use at meal time. It takes up about 2 square inches stood on end.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: tim irvine

                            I disagree about the lid. If you don't want one, then you're better off with a salt pig. But I really like a lid.

                            Mine http://www.beehouseteapot.com/img/be%... has an attached, flip-up lid. It's easy to access, use and refill and the lid keeps the contents clean.

                            I wouldn't change it. I liked the first one so much I got 2 more.

                          2. Do any of you who use salt boxes on the countertop find that your salting "habits" are affected? I mean to say, do you add more salt while cooking because it's there and easily accessible? Or doesn't it make a difference?

                            Just curious.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: LNG212

                              Well I tried the boxes, actually it was given to me as a gift. FL, too much humidity. I don't use air a lot or only when needed, so humidity is a problem for me. I have a small sealed antique glass jar for my salt on the counter and love it. It sits next to my pepper grinder. I do use it a lot. Probably more so than if it was in the cabinet. Mine was 4 dollars from an antique jar in excellent shape. I see them around all the times, and many replicas for 6x the price. I have had mine for about 10 years. It is simple and easy.

                              Fingernails, never had them, I work with my hands a lot so reaching in for salt isn't any problem for a pinch. However, I always make sure my hands are clean and mostly I usually use a spoon honestly. It is just easier. But it I am making a meal where I know I will use more salt, I usually will but a couple of teaspoons in a small bowl and use my fingers from there. Just depends.

                              The box, cute, but not what works for me in my kitchen.

                              1. re: LNG212

                                I am a person who can not *get* enough salt and have never had high blood pressure in 60 some years.

                                Having a salt box doesn't make me use more. But I have pretty much given up on salt shakers and grinders. When I'm not eating at the table with the fam, I take my plate to the salt box and pinch and sprinkle by hand.

                                1. re: LNG212

                                  It doesn't make a difference for me, I don't think. I also have one of those Italian ceramic salt boxes that was given to me, though mine is not divided. I usually keep the lid off while I'm cooking. And, when I'm handling meat, I usually put some in a small bowl, and then do the salting as needed.

                                2. I use an olivewood box in the rstaurant kitchen. It is a little bigger and easier to use on the line. At home I have one made from maple. I just like using them.

                                  1. I have an Italian ceramic salt box
                                    http://www.surlatable.com/product/sal...
                                    I also have my Grandmother's antique salt box. It is ceramic with a wooden hinged top

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Nunzio

                                      Nunzio, I have two of these, but I haven't been that happy with them since I feel that the glaze is very delicate and tends to chip. I have one by the sink and one by the stove.

                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        I haven't had a problem with mine. I have a white one. Its about 5 years old. It's a little taller and not as wide as these. and the writing is a little darker. Maybe they are different now

                                    2. Here's my little salt pig - cheap, cute, comes with a spoon, and easy to use. He also comes in black or white. I keep him by the stove loaded with kosher salt for cooking. The little spoon dispenses an amount equal to a large "pinch". He has ears and a tail . . .

                                      http://www.amazon.com/RSVP-Internatio...

                                      1. I use a small sugar bowl that I got as a gift 100 years ago. It is by Wilton Armetale. I leave it uncovered near the stove and have never had one bug in it. If I wanted to buy a covered holder for salt, I think this sugar bowl, also from Wilton Armetale, is cute. Frankly, the whole thing is kind of gimmicky if you ask me!

                                        http://tinyurl.com/l9latx

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: erica

                                          You put anything on a counter down here in FL, without a cover and instant gooo and an ant party :) I wish I could.

                                        2. You need not use anything fancy or $$ for a salt celler. It just needs to be appropriately sized and have a lid that's easy to get off.

                                          I use a small ceramic lidded bowl someone gave me as a gift for salt and a small crock that once contained Harrod's cheese for sugar.

                                          But you could use

                                          1. I have a big big one that was my great grandmother's on the farm. I've sometimes wondered about the size of it. What were they doing with all the salt? Brining? Other stuff?

                                            I don't worry about insects but do worry about dust, so since mine doesn't have any cover on it, I just cut a piece of parchment to size and put that over the salt.

                                            1. For anyone interested in unique salt pigs: http://www.etsy.com/search_results.ph...

                                              1. I'm leaning toward this one. It's a cellar and a shaker. Anyone tried it?

                                                http://www.amazon.com/Prepsolutions-P...