We’ve been having a lot of fun, Kelsey and I. We’ve been working pretty hard too. Kelsey Michael has been teaching me songs, I’ve been creating quirky little ditties about plants I see and eat along the coast paths and hedgerows, and we’ve been walking. […]
I’m sitting listening to Radio 4 (again) and the episode of the Digital Human called ‘Tribe’. This particular episode includes a focus on the role of hunting and gathering as a way of working together and supporting each other. Indeed, our ancestors worked closely to […]
I love foraging, I love the adventure of it, the thrill, the simplicity and the sheer satisfaction of collecting, preparing and eating my own gathered wild food. The last time I foraged for mussels I was with a friend, it was a wild, windy day and we found ourselves on the beach at low tide surrounded by nice, plump mussels. There and then we made a dinner plan and a spontaneous feast was foraged.
We carefully picked the largest, healthiest looking mussels, knowing the beach we were on was clean, and we discarded any that we un-attached, partially open or broken. We walked away, happy with our booty and I reflected on my reasons for not foraging shellfish more regularly. Quite simply, I want to stay safe and well. Food poisoning is not my idea of fun and I want to avoid it at all costs.
With that in mind, I thought I’d write a few notes on how to stay safe and well when foraging for shellfish. There are 3 key elements, then a few extra tips of cooking and preparing shellfish. These notes are brief, though hopefully they will add to your knowledge and help you enjoy what you forage.
No. 1. Always pick away from sources of pollution
This might be sewage, towns or other sources of pollution. I always recommend checking online and with locals, local knowledge can give a lot of insight into this.
No. 2. Wash thoroughly
Just because something is wild, it doesn’t mean it is clean and good for you, below are some thorough notes on rinsing different shellfish for food consumption.
No. 3. Make sure they’re alive
Sometimes it is useful to state the obvious, and, obviously, act on it too. Dead shellfish, are not good to eat, so discard shellfish that are dead when you forage them, or do not open when cooked.
Cockles – Winkles – Periwinkles – Mussels – Clams
If you are lucky enough to find any of these, here are some extra notes on cooking and rinsing them. Rinsing is often known as purging, and provides time to rid the shellfish of any unwanted extras, from toxins, bacteria and micro-organisms to sand, mud and anything untoward in their guts. It is well worth taking the time to do this, obviously.
What water and how much to use when purging?
If your shellfish are from the sea, then purging in salted water will be the best option, sea salt that is. The amounts are; 35g of sea salt to every litre of water, or clean, filtered sea water. The shellfish just need to be covered with water, no more or less. Purging means just letting the shellfish sit and soak in this water for the suggested amount of time.
If the shellfish have been foraged from estuaries, then fresh water should also be fine, though you might want to add a little salt. Cockles, mussels and clams are all shellfish I mention in my blog; What can you forage on the Helford?
Cockles – Rinse through with fresh water, then soak for 6 hours and check they are still alive before cooking for 5 minutes
Winkles and Periwinkles – Rinse through with fresh water, then purge for 12 hours, plunge into boiling water for 10 minutes
Mussels – Using a knife, scrape off all the barnacles, rinse twice with fresh water and check they are alive before cooking
Clams – Rinse with fresh water, then purge for 6 hours and cook for 10 minutes
‘You just have to try that green stuff’ (participant on a foraging course)
Luscious wild greens; Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) makes the perfect base for a Salsa Verde (green sauce) and it tastes so great that hardly anything else needs to be added.
Over the years my version of this Rock Samphire Salsa Verde has got simpler, depending on what other ingredients I have to hand, who I’m cooking for and my confidence of allowing this wonderful flavour to dominate, rather than plumping it up with other herbs. Gone is the parsley, the mint, the fennel (this plant is also, confusingly, sometimes known as Sea Fennel), it is even good without lemon added.
Late spring or early summer is perfect for picking Rock Samphire, you can also get away with it in late summer if you only pick the young fronds and avoid the flowing stems. This is wonderful beach food and goes perfectly on fresh bread, or served with fish, or even mixed in with pasta or rice. It lasts well, and lifts many dishes. Here’s my version with a few options too.
(Cooked Rock Samphire ready for the chop)
(The ingredients ready to mix, here I use shallots instead of spring onions)
ROCK SAMPHIRE SALSA VERDE
85 g Rock Samphire
3-4 Spring Onions
1 dessert spoon Capers
1 tsp vinegar
1-2 tbsp Olive oil
1 tbsp Lemon (optional)
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
2 Anchovies (optional)
Wash the samphire and cook in a small amount of water for 2-3 minutes in a lidded saucepan. The water doesn’t need to cover the samphire, as it will reduce and cook in its own steam. Remove from the pan and allow to cool. Meanwhile finely slice the spring onions and chop the capers. When the samphire is cool enough to handle, finely chop it and mix in a bowl along with the onions, capers, vinegar, oil and salt and pepper. Add the lemon if using, and finely chop the anchovies and mix in thoroughly. That’s it! Taste and adjust if needed.
Foraging courses are run throughout the year and most are on or include the coastal path and coastal plants such as; Rock Samphire. I also mention it here as part of my walking the South West Coast Path.
Cornwall is the 9th largest county in the UK, it’s boarder mostly by the sea (and Devon, of course) and is almost 1500 metres squared in area.
We have amazing access to coastal areas, 422miles of it, where foraging is rich and includes fish, mollusks, seaweed and coastal plants. We have abundant hedgerows, fields, coast paths, cliffs, moorland and beaches. Cornwall has 7 (think marsh samphire) estuaries, and I’ve mentioned before the diversity of estuary foraging.
Cornwall has just over half a million residents (the most the county has ever housed), so pressure on this beautiful place (as everywhere, it’s more mentioning) is increasing. However, most of those living here are in towns, less in villages and less so again, in hamlets. That leaves a lot wild areas for wildlife to flourish.
What’s more, almost a third of Cornwall has the status of; Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which gives it the same protection as a national park. The Cornwall AONB partnership has a 20 year vision to; protect, enhance and improve the resilience in the face of climate change these areas of Cornwall, which is why foraging sustainably, a little and in a variety of abundant places is key, and I mean that, 100%.
Are we that special?! I think we are. I think Cornwall is.
Of course, I’m biased, very biased, I chose to make Cornwall my home and, really, have no wishes to be anywhere else. Even in 100 things to do in England, there were almost 10 sites (9 to be specific) in Cornwall listed, that’s pretty good going I think.
My passion for this piece of the country includes enjoying these areas by picking a little wild food in appropriate areas. Carefully picking so it is practically un-noticeable that anything has been taken, and focusing on plants that are common, abundant and even invasive. I’m also interested in education; sharing this beautiful place so others can deepen their appreciation and understanding of this eco-system. I also still have a lot to learn and always will.
Cornwall is special, unique, protected, vulnerable, diverse, and as foragers we have a responsibility to take care of this beautiful place.
AONB official website, gov.uk, and the beloved wikipedia.
Everytime I run a Seaweed Foraging Course I make tasters. Sometimes I stick to old favourites like seaweed hummus, or 3 Seaweed Soup though often I tweak things or experiment – I like to keep things fresh and new. Frequently I make seaweed bread and […]