Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 77

By ERIC J. WALLACE | Photos by LAUREN STONESTREET: ELLEEFFECT.COM

MOUNTAIN TRADITIONS

Back to Business,
Decades Later
A happy accident led Nancy Bruns to revitalize her family's
200-year-old West Virginia salt-making business.

N

ancy Bruns, 52, grew up in
the Kanawha Valley of West
Virginia, just miles from the
site of the former salt-making
capital of the U.S. When the
industry peaked in the late
1840s, the valley was home to
about 50 saltworks and produced more
than three million bushels of salt a year.
But by the time Bruns was coming
along, that history was all but forgotten. She had no idea William Dickinson,
her four-times-great grandfather, had
founded what was once the largest and
longest running salt-making company
on the East Coast. Established in 1817,
and though the J.Q Dickinson Saltworks
didn't formally close its doors until 1945,
the family had long-since pivoted into
other interests.
"My relatives still owned the land
where the factory had been, but I don't
remember anyone ever talking about it,"
says Bruns. In fact, it wasn't until she was
in her mid 40s that she discovered the
legacy of William Dickinson.
"And that was more-or-less a happy accident," she adds.
By then, Bruns was an established chef.
After earning her degree from the New
England Culinary Institute in Vermont,
she worked for 20 years establishing herself as a staple of the gourmet food scene

Nancy Bruns and her brother, Lewis Payne, have been harvesting salt since 2014.

around Asheville, North Carolina. In the
mid 2000s, she was living with her husband, Carter, in Highlands, where they
owned and operated a restaurant called
the Wild Thyme Gourmet.
In 2008, Carter returned to school to
pursue a master's degree in American history. Researching how trade had shaped
early development in Appalachia, he happened upon a reference to the "Kanawha
Salines"-that is, modern day Charleston. Fascinated, he traced the influence
of Kanawha's salt trade through the late
18th century and beyond. The quest unexpectedly arrived at his wife's ancestors.
"It was entertaining and kind of bizarre," says Bruns. "Here was my husband, filling me in on all this family history I knew nothing about."

Oddly enough, the revelation seemed
to validate and explain Bruns's own peculiar interest in salt. For years she'd been
visiting areas around the world to observe
salt-making practices. Whether it was
Greece, Africa or South America, she'd
gather samples from each site into small
glass bottles. At home, she proudly displayed her growing catalogue.
Containing trace minerals from millions of years ago, salt, Bruns says, is special, in that it integrates geological history
to capture the flavor of a region in a way
that nothing else can. Thus, the more she
learned about the old "Kanawha Salines,"
the more she ached to experience the historic taste of Appalachia.
Getting in touch with a geologist
friend, she discovered J.Q. Dickinson salt

JULY/AUGUST 2018

77


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018

Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 6
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - 8
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Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - July/August 2018 - Cover4
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