What did British subjects of old smuggle at the risk of imprisonment? It wasn't drugs. I'll give you a hint.

What did British subjects of old smuggle at the risk of imprisonment? It wasn't drugs. I'll give you a hint.

Taxes imposed on it helped spark the French Revolution. During the 12th century, this commodity's value equaled that of books and gold. We still require it to survive, yet too much can kill us.

If you didn't cheat and get the answer from the title, you may have trouble believing that so much hoopla surrounds the simple, white compound found in every salt shaker in every kitchen — sodium chloride, to be precise.

We've all heard that time is money, but plain, old salt was money in the ancient world. Hardened discs, which bore the stamped likenesses of prominent folks, served as coins. People (likely Romans) bought Greek slaves with it, hence the phrase: "He's not worth his salt."

Our word "salary" stems from that exchange, and "salad" shares the word's origin because of the early use of salt to inhibit the bitterness of some greens by diminishing the perceptions of particular taste buds.

We're fortunate to have a country with a rich history of salty resources: salt springs, seawater, underground mines in Kansas and other states, and don't forget the Bonneville Salt Flats, which seemingly never end when driving through them. We are a salt-worthy nation.

Discovering all this and far more than I have room for here, I have new respect for my humble, antique saltbox. Amateur and professional chefs still keep a saltbox handy while the rest of us make do with a shaker. But American kitchens from pioneer days to present have had a box for salt — plain or fancy — sitting on a shelf or hanging on a wall above the stove. The heat helped keep the salt dry and prevent caking.

Many companies produced a wide array of lidded boxes made of porcelain, enameled tin, glass, stoneware or wood. European specimens are colorful and sometimes decorated with flowers or patterns. The label SALT, SAL or SALZ stands out boldly on the front in the language of the manufacturer.

My saltbox dates from the early 20th century and is made of curved maple staves, glued together and held with two horizontal, copper bands. It's a hanging variety and, as with most saltboxes, holds about a pound of the precious stuff. One like it recently sold for $65.

Salt is the universal seasoning, enhancing the flavor of any dish when used in proper proportion. Too much, and we overpower individual flavors and dull our taste buds. Too little, and we may never enjoy the intended savor of what we're eating.

Salt may even be the perfect analogy for how I should treat my fellow humans. Haven't you known someone who was the "salt of the earth?"

As the Apostle Paul was reported to have said, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person."

Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.