The brine, of course, comes from underground. To help find the best location, Payne and Bruns brought in geologist John Bullock, of Gaddy Engineering.
"We found some of the old well logs that identified where the geological formations are," Payne said. "That helped us find the salt sands."
At Bullock's direction, they drilled a well last May in a field not far from the sun house, 345 feet deep.
"At that depth, we got salinity of ocean water, around 4 percent," Bullock said. "The deeper you go, the saltier it gets and the more minerals there are."
Brine from the well goes to a hose tap in a nearby pump house. When needed, they hook up a hose to fill a 2,500-gallon plastic tank that sits outside the sun house.
"The reason we got the big tank is to let the iron settle," Payne said. Unlike their predecessors, who sold red salt, Payne and Bruns let the iron settle and gravity-feed the clear brine into the sun house.
"We've got two different beds," Payne said. "One is the evaporation bed. That sets for about two weeks and goes from about four inches [deep] to two inches. Then we move from that bed to the longer one. That gets the brine really thin so we can get the crystallization started."
It's very much a hands-on process. They use a wooden rake to push the crystals out of the brine and keep them from forming into larger clumps.
Hot, too, as the sun house creates a lot of solar gain. "It gets over 150 degrees in there on a hot day," Bruns said. "You can't stay in there very long. You have to work in the early morning."
For final drying -- it's too humid outside -- Bruns and Payne take the salt crystals into their office in the old Terra Salis shop and spread them onto racks.
"We clean it, any debris, and package it," Bruns said. "One rotation of the sun house is 175 pounds in three weeks."
That might not sound like a lot, but, divided into containers as small as two ounces, it goes a long way.
According to a draft price list, a 2-ounce tin of Appalachian Farm Heirloom salt would retail for $5.
"It's a finishing salt," Bruns said, "something you add to a dish when it's cooked -- a steak when you take it off the grill, or cantaloupe after you cut it up. It finishes the flavor. You get a burst of flavor when you're eating it, experiencing the texture of the salt with the texture of the food and the flavor of the salt and the food."
Although stores are flooded with varieties of gourmet salts these days, Bruns thinks her product fills a nearly unique niche.
"This Peruvian Pink salt," she said, pointing at one of a half-dozen or so small bottles, "is the only other commercial salt that's made from brine." All the rest are sea salts.
Their Heirloom salt, the first of what they hope will be a whole line of Appalachian Farm salts, should arrive on area shelves within a month or so, Payne said.
"We'll start locally -- Capitol Market, Tamarack, The Greenbrier -- and work outward," he said. "We think the South and Mid-Atlantic are our major markets."
Reach Jim Balow at ba...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.