When I was a child, I remember my mum coming into our primary school to make lemon curd with my class. I couldn’t remember the recipe, but I do remember the sense of alchemy and magic of creating this rich dish. As a self-acclaimed forager,…
Author: Rachel Lambert
Schnapps is a flavoured and distilled alcoholic drink, the flavour is often fruit, the alcohol often brandy. I came across a hawthorn schnapps recipe a couple of years ago, I can’t quite remember where. I’m often looking for different recipes for the plants that I…
Can you see the mistake? There actually aren’t any winkles (Littorina littorea) on my dinner plate, these are mostly topshells with a hidden whelk or two. Topshells and whelks are also edible. Winkles, also known as common perwinkles have been eaten for thousands of years by humans. They’re an abundant univalve (they have no hinge like mussels, clams or oysters) that live on the foreshore. They are usually the shell fish living highest up on the shore, so are often the easiest to forage all year round, regardless whether it’s a big tide or not.
Topshells are known to live in the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tide), though they too are found in shallow pools on the foreshore. The easiest way to tell a topshell is by their mother-of-pearl lining – turn it over and you’ll see their jewel-like rim. Many topshells also have a zig-zag pattern on them, as in the image below.
Winkles, Common Periwinkles, edible Winkle
Winkles are simpler. Their colouring is plain, often looking black when wet and these are the traditional sea snail that is associated as food. They have a simple white lining and are known by any of the names above. Traditions aside, all sea snails can be eaten it’s just that winkles are thought to have the best flavour. It just depends on which you’d like to eat, where you are and what’s available – I was looking for winkles one day and could only find topshells, so my dinner menu was decided upon. It’s generally easier to find them on rocky shores rather than sandy beaches.
How to prepare and eat winkles or topshells
Winkles or topshells can be a simple snack that you can linger on. Easy to pick and cook, though they require a little attention to eat. It’s a good habit to pay attention when eating – use it as a mindful exercise if you like.
Unlike bivalves, these univalves aren’t filter feeders, so are generally safer to eat. They live off a diet of seaweeds and you’ll expect to find them on beaches with lots of wrack seaweeds growing – I digress. It’s still preferable to purge them though; rinse them in fresh water a couple of times and leave them to soak for 3-4 hours and no more than 12 hours. Ideally in salted water – 35 g sea salt to 1 litre of water, 7 g sea salt to 200 ml of water, ecetera.
Topshells and winkles only need to be cooked for 4-5 minutes, then eaten with a pin. Yes, a pin! The flesh is sealed in with a small disc which you can flick out with the pin then hook out the flesh. Easy! It just takes time, and is worth lingering on (see the flesh in the image below) – slow, local food at its best.
Winkle, Perwinkle or Topshell Recipe
You can just simmer the shells then dip the cooked flesh in garlic butter, or here I’ve simmered them in white wine with some seasoning. It was delicious and lots of sauce to soak up with chunks of bread afterwards. Here’s my easy recipe.
- Onions or shallots
- White wine
- Rock Samphire, or other wild herbs such as sorrel
- Sea salt and pepper
- Pinch of ground seaweed (I used bladder wrack)
- Sea snails of your choice (purged)
Chop and fry the onion over a medium heat until translucent. Add the wine and bring to a simmer, add the chopped herbs and seasoning, then the sea snails. There should be enough wine to cover the snails once they’re added. Simmer for 4-5 minutes then take off the heat and eat, with a pin and chunks of fresh bread.
I am available to lead private forays where you can choose the content – such as shellfish. I’ve led a couple of shellfish based private forays this year for those wanting a little more of a meaty cook up. Wracks, the diet of these sea snails, are some of the seaweeds that I teach on my seaweed foraging courses too.
It’s been two and a half decades since I started a serious (and fun) relationship with foraging. And it’s been well over a decade since I’ve been teaching foraging (I’m writing this in 2019). Like any relationship, there’s ups and downs, boredom, frustration, elation, new…
I’ve been using seaweeds in and as food for long enough now. I’ve got into the the swing of which seaweeds to match with what recipe and amounts to use. Dulse (Palmaria palmata) with potatoes is traditional, in bread feels natural and, I feel, has long wanted to be matched with Baba Ghanoush.
Baba Ghanoush is an Arabic dish using charred aubergines, giving a mildly smoky flavour to this delicious dip. The name roughly translates as ‘daddy spoils you’ and it does taste rather decadent. Matched with dulse, my favourite dried seaweed to snack on, adds an umami flavour, a little mineral rich salt and plenty of nutrition.
I have a standard Baba Ghanoush recipe that I’ve used for years. A straight-forward recipe from Daverick Leggett’s book ‘Recipes for Self-Healing’ where Daverick also goes through the energetics of food. He describes Baba Ghanoush as nourishing for the blood and yin – this will make sense if you read more in his Recipes for Self-Healing book.
Back to the recipe. Baba Ghanoush is so delicious, so decadent, so easy to make, and, in some ways very similar to hummus. Except there are no beans to give you flatulence, though I have a seaweed recipe for that too! Look up the Kelp Hummus recipe in my seaweed book for flatulence-free chickpea hummus, with a little added seaweed.
Who would know that blending the flesh of aubergines with garlic, lemon, tahini and seaweed could be so awesome. This recipe makes a fair amount, which meant I was able to enjoy it on toast, on the top of squash soup, and on the beach with sea lettuce bread on yesterday’s seaweed course. Here’s the recipe.
Baba Ghanoush with Dulse Seaweed
An Arabian dish perfect for dipping freshly cut vegetables into, or spreading onto bread. Inspired by Daverick Leggett’s recipe and given a seaweed twist.
- 3 aubergines
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp dark tahini
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- 5 g dried and ground dulse seaweed
- Olive oil to garnish and to taste
Burn the aubergines. Either on the highest temperature in the oven or on an open flame until they go soft and squidgy. Scoop out the insides, or peel off the skin and blend the flesh with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle with a good olive oil and serve. Lasts well for a week, if you hide it and don’t eat it all at once.
Find out more about Dulse
Dulse is one of the seaweeds I teach regularly on my seaweed courses, I’ve also written about Drying Dulse at Home and here’s my Dulse soda Bread Recipe. In my seaweed book (as well as my courses), I describe where to find Dulse, what seasons to harvest it, how to harvest it sustainably and nutritional benefits.
My memories of Summer are, inevitably, interlaced with foraging.
Plants and food, namely wild food, has long been an integral part of my life. One that I choose not to live without.
Earlier on in Summer I wrote about keeping things simple and shared easy ways I turn picnics and barbeques into events with a wild twist, from seaweed breads to seaweed salads, wild salsa verde to elderflower cordial. Summer, after all is meant to have a holiday feel, so labouring over lavish meals doesn’t make sense for me – that’s for Autumn and Winter!
My most popular foraging plant in Summer
Without a doubt, the wild food that most features in my Summer is Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum). Lining cliff walks, evenings on the beach, and wild swimming spots, I find it so easy to gather. Back home I can make a Rock Samphire Salsa Verde from it within minutes, then back on the beach to share it with friends or family. And it always, always goes down a treat, such a punchy, lemony, herby flavour, hence its nickname Sea Fennel. What more does a Summer forager need?!
Where to find Rock Samphire
If you’re living in North Scotland, I’m sorry. If your on the east coast, you’ll have less opportunities to forage this compared to us Cornish and those on the west-side. I’ll leave it there.
In August I took 4 days out to walk the North coast path in Cornwall with a friend – 25 miles of up and down, lots of giggling and achy limbs. I slept well on my return. While my walking companion took photos of us and the fantastic views, I found myself defaulting to pictures of beautiful edibles. Rock Samphire on the cliffs, too far out of reach to clamber for, the drop below being too large to risk.
As Shakespeare wrote; ‘Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!’
My ideal Summer
Rather than risk my life, the words and phrases I associate with summer are; balmy air, sand between my toes, people everywhere, stopping to pluck, pick or gather, soft grass, undulating ground, dozing on the cliffs, rock samphire salsa verde, sunsets, lemony scents, rushing out, got to be out, sea swims, lake swims, wild camping. Barbequed fish, crab sandwiches. Minty desserts, drying herbs for teas, looking out to sea. Laughing, beach fires, chilly post-swim skin, happily tired. Happy dog, heather, rosebay willowherb flowers, purple hues, short nights and long days, intense, will it ever end!?
Ideally my Summer is full enough to allow me to fall, glide or merge into Autumn. I can relate to Alys Fowler’s words on suiting autumn better – woolly jumpers and all. Soon I’ll be ready to have evenings in, cook feasts, do more nature writing, contemplate, meditate and lazily read. Though not quite yet….
How was your Summer? What were your best memories?
I run foraging courses throughout the year, and in-between my own adventures with friends and family. I love to share my passion for wild foods, my knowledge and the journey along the way – I will never know it all!