- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

MALDEN, W.Va. (AP) - Most of the time when West Virginia and Martha Stewart are mentioned together, it has to do with the five months the home lifestyle guru spent as an inmate at the federal prison camp in Alderson.

Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne would like to change that.

The siblings are co-owners, along with partners Gaddy Engineering, of J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden.

Months ago, they entered the company in Martha Stewart’s American Made competition. Now they’ve made it to the finals.

The contest draws hopefuls from coast to coast and spotlights American companies that Martha Stewart Living magazine and its readers believe could be the next generation of entrepreneurs and artisans who make “beautiful, inspiring, useful products; pioneering new industries; improving local communities; and changing the way we eat, shop, work and live.”

Through Monday, people can vote online at www.marthastewart.com/americanmade for products they think deserve to win.

“It’s just publicity,” Bruns said. “There’s no money or anything, but the idea of it seemed like a good fit for us and lets us tell our story. We’re about as American made as you can get.”

Bruns is a seventh-generation salt manufacturer. Her family, the Dickinson family, began making salt from the ocean of brine located deep under the hills of Kanawha County in 1817.

Kanawha County’s red salt was much prized during the Civil War and well-known around the world.

“People liked it for curing meat,” she said.

Salt making in West Virginia dried up in the mid-20th century as it was mass-produced cheaper elsewhere.

Bruns said her family quit the business in 1945.

“Then my brother and I revived it in 2012,” she said.

Bruns said had always known about the family’s salt making business but really became interested in it after owning and running a restaurant.

“I was very much into salt,” she said. “My cupboard was full of little bottles of different salts from all over the world.”

After she and her husband sold their restaurant, Wild Thyme, in North Carolina, Bruns’ husband went back to school.

She said, “He did his master’s thesis on the industrialization of salt in the Kanawha Valley, and it just looked at the family history in a totally different way.”

Bruns called it an a-ha moment. They could make salt. So, they drilled a new well on her family’s land and used solar evaporation to reduce the brine into sodium crystals.

“It’s an all-natural, mineral-rich, unprocessed product,” she explained. “We do it without burning coal or timber, like they used to.”

The salt J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works makes is artisan and different than the stuff that pours out of the Morton’s box. Bruns said it’s sweeter and the flavor is more complex, which makes it a good go-to ingredient for chefs and serious foodies.

But it’s not red. The original red was from the local iron content in the brine, which Bruns said they’ve removed.

“Otherwise, it tastes like you’re sucking on a penny,” she said.

Consumers 100 years ago might not have cared so much, but these days, people are more discerning.

“And nobody wants their food to taste like metal.”

Bruns said she first heard about Martha Stewart’s American Made contest “through the grapevine.”

“We nominated ourselves,” she said.

However, judges apparently liked what they saw and now they’re in the finals in the food, agriculture and sustainability subcategory.

“There’s voting for the audience choice,” Bruns said. “But there’s also a panel that will pick a winner.”

Bruns said they had high hopes.

“We think we’re a great product and a great West Virginia story,” she said.

For more information about J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, visit www.jqdsalt.com .

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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