27 November 2006

which has more holes

the salt shaker or the pepper shaker?

come take sides in the first rancorous debate of my married life!


dewey said...

Wimpily, I will avoid taking a side. Instead, I will ask these questions, which are somewhat related to the rancorous debate at hand:

why are salt and pepper the two and only two spices that are on pretty much every table in America? who decided that these were the only two spices that the eater, rather than the cook, gets to control? why these two and not two other ones?

has it always been this way?

is it like this in other countries?

does salt even qualify as a spice?

tormp said...

an interesting question.

both dictionary.com and wiktionary say that spices are of vegetable origin, which would exclude salt. on the other hand, wiktionary
lists "plural of spouse" as an alternate definition for spice, so take that definition with...


there's a fascinating little bit of exegesis here,
which seems to indicate that keeping salt on the table for ritualistic eating purposes is actually an article of Talmudic law.

this similar site references the same traditions, but also promises that "since salt is on the table, the Satan goes away". i am not sure if pepper provides a similar function. perhaps it keeps Loki shackled to the rocks.

This second site also provides a poetic metaphor for salt within the Jewish community: when the community sits together, it is delicious like salt; when divided, it is like the deadly poisons SODIUM and CHLORINE, the components of salt.

moving on, there are also a couple of broad generalizations that come to mind. first, salt and pepper tend to be used in larger quantities than other spices. they also tend to be quite a bit cheaper than other spices. finally, lots of other spices (though i would say pepper too) need to be cooked to release their flavor, so putting them on the table would not do much good. because these observations are rooted in rationality of the most basic variety, i'm sure they have nothing to do with our current traditions.

now, back to the original question. someone needs to help me out here. i have one shaker with one hole. i have one shaker with three holes. their physical properties are otherwise identical. they were wedding gifts. despite being among the more expensive items on the registry, they came with no manual. help me fill them. we cannot continue to eat bland food in this manner.

without specifying which side of the argument i favor, here's how current stances break down:

1. salt is typically used in greater volume than pepper to season food. therefore, salt gets three holes. this, uh, allows you to spend equal time with both shakers but still arrive at food spiced in proper proportion.
2. salt crystals tend to be larger than milled pepper granules. thus we have one hole in the salt shaker and three holes in the pepper shaker, but similar flow is achieved. it took me almost an hour to come up with an english language formulation of this position that didn't sound batshit crazy.

both positions seem a little contrived. i've come up with a third one just now:

3. the salt and pepper shakers are opaque. one-versus-three holes is merely used to differentiate them, regardless of their contents.

of course, a giant S and P would have been useful in this regard. on the other hand, maybe they didn't want to bias the containers towards salt and pepper to assure easy marketing in other cultures.

dewey said...

despite being among the more expensive items on the registry, they came with no manual. help me fill them. we cannot continue to eat bland food in this manner.

As Phaedrus said, when confronted with the horns of a dilemma, there are not two choices but three. Instead of deciding if salt is 1-hole or 3-hole, fill them with:
- salt and salt
- pepper and pepper
- sugar and fennel
- cinnamon and anise
- sodium and chlorine

dewey said...

FWIW, I always believed that a combination of your arguments #1 and #3 above were correct.

My wife concurs, citing the very strong argument "'coz gramma sez so". (Her grandmother being, of course, an authority on setting the table.)

However, not everyone agrees that salt should have more holes.

russ said...

Wow... no character limit on the text area, I guess.

As a descriptive seasoner, not a proscriptive seasoner, I've always noted that pepper had fewer holes -- I noted this because for me it was counter-intuitive, since I frequently have a serious issue getting pre-ground pepper out of the shaker.

Which brings up my solution: salt cellar and pepper grinder.

tormp said...

maybe i got carried away. do you really use a salt cellar?

i thought that the international guild of butlers might have something to say, but apparently not. they did help me get all of my serving silver straight though.

kyl has heard that in Germany they keep mustard seeds on the table, for grinding into mustard paste (when combined with vinegar). she also mentioned this act as aetiology for the phrase "cut the mustard", as in, not enough vinegar to make it palatable. i guess the origin of this phrase is also subject to debate.

she also wanted me to say something mean about old people in this context.

russ said...

I really use a salt cellar. And a turkish brass coffee grinder purchased in Turkiy for grinding pepper. You can now buy them at World Market.

Do they seriously prepare their own mustard at the table? Do they have a morter and pestle? Where does that get placed amongst the fine silver?

russ said...


dewey said...

My wife sends along a couple more extremely germane links:

You're not the first couple to debate this.

Somebody asked yahoo.

ChiliCon said...

Don't ask the internet, it doesn't know anything.

IMO, Pepper has more holes since it doesn't flow well.
But I like salt a lot. If it didn't come out of the one-hole shaker fast enough I'd be switching shakers pretty quick.

tormp said...

i don't know about mortar and pestle. i also haven't been able to verify this practice with any secondary sources.

maybe they use grenades. achtung!

russ said...

cut the mustard gas?

schmonz said...

You guys are amazing.

schmonz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mani said...


Note the people dressed up like the novelty salt and pepper shakers towards the bottom of the page.

russ said...

Also, not the content is centered. Consistent with someone that would dress up a shaker that actually doesn't look anything like a shaker.

Or a quaker.

Ryan Leaf said...

1. I suggest that next time this discussion comes up, you pick up the salt and pepper shakers, walk outside and throw them as far as you able.
2. Salt goes in the white shaker. Pepper goes in the brown-grey shaker. Spray paint them if necessary; I wish you luck finding brown-grey spraypaint.
3. Salt is the one hole. No doubt. As nearly every previous poster has noted, it's genital symbolism.