If you've read this blog more than once or twice you've heard me mention a community group I'm involved with. Well, recently I hosted a jam-making workshop for such members of the group as were able and interested. It's funny - I was expecting most of the people who showed up to be people who had never made jam or jelly before. We got one or two of those, but most of the people who showed up were people who were very familiar with the process. They were interested mostly in jams in a historical context, or didn't feel that they could justify making a full batch of jams just for one person, or seeing how other people did it, or so on and so forth. I had a couple of modern recipes ready to go, and I had a few historical recipes marked that we could redact and work on together.
Unfortunately some Administrative Drama had arisen over the course of the previous week, and as of last December the Administrative Drama in the local group falls to me. I needed to take a break in the middle of the workshop to go talk on the phone. This should not have been a problem. Some of my guests were strangers to my house, but others had been here and knew the basic layout of the kitchen before. I was confident that no one would be poisoned or catch on fire. People were working on the Afghan Ginger Preserve, because it's super tasty and I thought people would enjoy it. They had peeled the ginger, the food processor had shredded the ginger. I went outside to take the call.
And here's where it kind of went ... not so much "wrong", but askew. We've been menaced by pantry moths, so just about everything is in canisters on the counter. That doesn't mean that the canisters are labeled. I'm the only person who bakes or makes jam or any of that in the house these days and I don't see the point of labeling if I can see the difference between ingredients. I've stopped using white sugar for anything besides bulk jam-making and the occasional event. I don't keep it on hand, so it isn't in canisters. I'd bought some for the occasion, but I hadn't decanted it. It was in giant sacks on the counter. The sugar in the canister is raw sugar, which is distinctly brown. The white crystalline substance in the canister is kosher salt.
So I went outside to take my phone call while my friends all worked on the jam. The call took about an hour. I came in. One of my friends greeted me at the kitchen door with a massive grin. "We have a present for you," she said brightly. "We made Ginger Salt!"
I'm not sure who, precisely, added the salt instead of the sugar. It doesn't matter who actually did it anyway. There were I think five or six people standing around the stove at that point. Two of them have cooked in my kitchen in the past. One of them is a professional chemist. Three of them have run semi-professional kitchens (event kitchens, for those of you in the SCA.) None of them checked. Ultimate responsibility lies with me, because I didn't label the salt like a normal person. I know my husband can't tell the difference between white sugar and kosher salt. Why would anyone else?
The cooks recognized their mistake quickly. They could have discarded the substance that they created. They did not. Instead, they found a clean, quart-sized jar, put the resultant ginger-salt stuff inside and sealed it.
I can't share the recipe. They didn't write it down, I wasn't there, and a lot of the people involved feel kind of sheepish about it. So why am I sharing this here? Because this situation, this incident is exactly what I'm trying to accomplish with this blog. There was a situation - a mistake. It could be considered a disaster and in some kitchens that ginger-salt combination would have been thrown away immediately, possibly accompanied by profanities and the immediate listing of the canning equipment on a local FreeCycle forum. Once upon a time I certainly would have discarded the stuff. What I got, though, was a very useful and interesting ingredient that adds a distinctive and unique touch to my cooking. It's one that no other cook is likely to have on hand.
Now, don't get me wrong. This stuff is wicked salty, hence the catchy name. You can't just use it like ginger paste - I tried that in one recipe this past weekend and almost wrecked it. But it is useful. It seemed like a disaster, but it wasn't. It all worked out, in a way that I'll probably never be able to replicate if I try.