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March 14, 2009

Good day, Paul Harvey

In memory of radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, who passed away on February 28, 2009, here is a “Rest of the story” segment I wrote a number of years ago (based on information from the book Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky):

The US Civil War, Salt, and a Legacy

Many fortunes have been won — and lost — in the old American South.

This is the story of a man called Edmund, who went to New Orleans, seeking his fortune. Over 16 years of hard work, Edmund worked his way up to become a respectable banker, owner of five banks, and good friends with a judge, Daniel Avery. So good, in fact, Edmund married Daniel’s daughter, Mary.

With the advent of the Civil War, Edmund and the Averys retreated to the Averys’ sugar plantation, on an island in a swamp called Petit Anse. At Petit Anse, Edmund would have enjoyed his prosperity peacefully, if not for a serendipitous discovery: salt!

For you see, one of the supplies being blockaded by the Union forces was salt. And salt was essential, in those days, to preserve food: food for men and women, food for children, food for the rich, food for the poor, and food for soldiers.

And salt was the lucky discovery made by a slave at Petit Anse, at the bottom of a well. The salt was a pure and dense lode, which had to be mined with dynamite, and quite valuable. War-time prices for a 200-pound sack of salt reached $25, up from 50 cents before the war.

With salt being a critically needed resource in the South, Edmund and Judge Avery benefited from an immense windfall. The Judge was able to buy up all of the island at Petit Anse, renaming it Avery Island. Alas, Edmund was not so wise with his finances. He had accepted payment in Confederate currency, which became worthless at the end of the war.

And so after the war, Edmund retired to Petit Anse, living a life of ease as a gentleman farmer, experimenting in his spare time with a new condiment, made from a red Mexican seasoning, mixed with his family’s salt, and other ingredients.

Although Edmund lived comfortably, and did manage to obtain some success with his new food additive, in his lifetime he never attained the same level of wealth as during the war. Instead, he achieved a different legacy...

For Edmund’s full name is Edmund McIlhenny... and the hot sauce he invented is called Tabasco sauce...

And now you know... THE REST OF THE STORY.

Posted by Isaac at March 14, 2009 5:53 PM