It could have been the first time they ate oysters harvested from Bulls Bay, a summer day spent walking around Lighthouse Island helping the turtle crew, or just hanging out at the battery that sparked Rustin and Teresa’s journey to make their passion their profession.
A couple seemingly destined to be together, the Gooden duo began long before Bulls Bay Saltworks did. These two have always had a knack for bringing out the best in one another; what started as companionship turned into friendship, friendship into partnership, partnership into forever after. Whether it was as river rafting guides in Alaska or as hitch hiking instructors throughout the everglades, these companions were at their best when they were forced to conquer the elements. Every trip across the country was both freeing and invigorating. Mother Nature’s jaw dropping beauty, from coastline to coastline, was a source of constant inspiration that fueled their fire for endless adventure. How, then, did they land in South Carolina? What led them to lay claim in McClellanville? A desire to be closer to family and a job for Rustin serving as a park ranger in the Francis Marion National Forest brought this hungry, natural, opportunistic pair to the lowcountry.
Still relatively new to the area at their homestead nestled down a muddy dirt road, a neighborhood pig roast on May 31st, 2012, cemented the Gooden’s into the community. The cookout was a three-part mission: welcome everyone into their lives, meet new people, and learn what they had gotten themselves into. Having collected ocean water to brine the roast, Rustin placed whatever wasn’t being used in a container in the bottom of the cooker. After twelve hours, both the pig and the water were smoked to perfection. The container that had once held seawater was now impermissible salt crystals with the most unique smoky flavor that complimented the pig flawlessly. From this happy accident, Bulls Bay Saltworks was born.
Contending with the rising tides, playing at the beach, or eating the bounty from our healthy waters makes for a familiar taste. Whether you are visiting or call it home, escaping Charleston’s salty air is nearly impossible. Just minutes past Mount Pleasant in Awendaw, South Carolina lays a bay that is famous for its oyster clusters, clams, and other seafood delights. The marshlands, shallow creeks, and open ocean spanning the horizon make it a hotbed for aquatic life of all kinds. Located in the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, these waters are monitored and guarded by the Department of Health and Environmental Control, ensuring that they remain among the healthiest in the low country. Within this class one wilderness area, Saltworks harvests the cleanest water on the eastern seaboard. The process to provide the most unique salt with natural purity and distinctive taste is one that relies on precision, nature, and a few hidden secrets.
Collecting water for the Gooden’s now sure beats the days of old. Not all that long ago, Teresa and Rustin would harvest water from Bulls Bay in five gallon buckets by hand. It not only limited the amount of water they were able to harvest but was also a far more laborious process that added time. Fortunately, they have since purchased a 200-gallon tank that sits in the back of their truck. No more lugging around heavy buckets, and no more trips back and forth to the car. The new tank has only made their lives easier, but it hasn’t nullified their involvement in the gathering process. They are still out there, accompanying the tubes, during the highest of tides. Once full, only fittingly, Teresa and Rustin utilize the sun and the wind to evaporate the water and formulate their salt crystals.
Inside a big greenhouse called the Solar Tunnel, hovering anywhere from 80 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, is where the transformation happens. The collected ocean water is sent through two different processes that produce both jagged, hard, rock like crystals and brittle, grainy, lightweight flakes. First is the purification process. A holding container is hooked up to a filtration machine that extracts any impurities from the water. The then clean water is placed in small black containers and set on a table exposed to the sun and the heat trapped within the tunnel. Now begins the waiting game. During the winter months, contending with colder temperatures slows down evaporation. Two to three short days turn into four long weeks; a once speedy process that took a matter of days during Charleston’s grueling summer months is dragged out weeks. Nevertheless, offering a clean, natural, southern crafted sea salt makes the wait worthwhile. The progressions that brings us the bourbon barrel smoked flake, the bourbon barrel smoked grinder, the sea salt flake, and the sea salt grinder all culminates in the basement of their home. From here, the salt, now crystals and flakes, is prepared, organized, and packaged for purchase. Everything is done on site.
You have to look back 150 years to find the last time salt was produced in South Carolina. It was right here in the lowcountry that the USS James Chambers destroyed the final saltern at Palmetto Point Bulls Bay on February 25, 1865. Upon deciding to harvest on a larger scale, Bulls Bay Saltworks became the first operational salt producer in South Carolina. It’s only right that things came full circle Rustin and Teresa brought it home. What we see now, their finished product, took time, effort, and error. The Gooden’s have never backed down from fear; their many adventures and stories actually speak to the contrary. They have blazed their own trail and taken their own path through life’s amazing journeys, making it a point to never to take the same road twice. We here at Salthouse wish them nothing but the best in the future! For more information on the Gooden’s excursions and to find the store closest to you, keep yourself updated with everything Saltworks!
Until next time!