Seashores Looking For Stuff To Eat…….A John Wright Foray!
We arrived at our secret foraging location in good time to psych ourselves up for our day. It was cool (very), cloudy, (no blue) and extremely windy. The surf was up. massive breakers were crashing on the shores, – not entirely conducive to donning your cozzy and finding what Bob was hoping to be a “Seafood platter, – fresher and more abundant than you would hope to find in Loch Fyne….” In fact the man in the Café had recommended buying a couple of crab sandwiches, which Bob was to remind us of later in the day.
The traffic to our destination was terrible, so when our leader and forager extraordinaire John Wright arrived, everyone was ready for the traditional forager’s nip, this time, either sloe vodka, cheat’s sloe gin or Epine, a beer or a tot of whiskey. We indulged (for warmth obviously) and went for a wander along Chesil Beach to find some ‘Green Stuff!’
We found Sea Purslane, a succulent silver grey leaf which grows on salt marshes and is best used as a condiment, chopped, sprinkled on potatoes and roasted. Culpeper, the 17th century herbalist stated that it has the power to “cool the outrageous lust of the body….” John said he had been eating it for years and it was beginning to work. We found wild rocket – super peppery; wild carrot, wild radish and wild parsnip; – it was interesting to realize that all the above are the forebears of the cultivated produce we eat today, our ancestors would have had to have been quite creative to make a tasty meal out of any of them.
Next we crossed the road running through the peninsula and out onto the harbour side, where the tide was almost out. Once the tide is low, it is easier to spot the telltale slits made by burrowing razor clams, which were hoping to find, John had lead a foray 2 days earlier when they had found over 40 of them so we were fairly confident that we would find loads.
Bob, Vince and Sue decided that they were the back-up beach crew; Sue carrying the buckets to hold the huge amounts of food we would find, and for more greenery, Vince carried the massive shrimping nets, just in case, and Bob carried my bag, so that he could turn it into a pillow and have a little nap.
John put on full body waders, Simon wriggled into his speedos, and I donned my saggy swimming costume, preparing to spend a few minutes in the freezing sea, collecting clams. In order to do this successfully, the idea is to look for the telltale slit, sprinkle liberally with salt and await the sudden burst of activity as the razor clam, as if by magic, emerges from the sea bed. You need to grasp it quickly and ease it gently out of the sand before it digs its long gloopy foot back in to the sand and sticks fast.
After 15- 20 minutes we were surprised not to have a basket of clams; what we hadn’t reckoned with was the strong winds agitating the water so we couldn’t see the bottom, the disturbance can also make the clams burrow deeper too, and that, coupled with several dozen kite surfers flying past at 50 knots, intent on either taking us out for invading their space, or showing their mates that they could jump over us all plus a few moored boats, land, and ruffle the water at the same time – thus frightening off the few razor clams that might have braved the weather! Result: 2 hours wading, frozen feet, 0 razor clams! Bob had no faith in us either and had snuck off for a cream tea, they had sold out of crab; Sue found about 6 huge barrow jellyfish all intent on committing suicide by washing themselves up on the beach. Perhaps we could collect these for tea? John sliced one up for us the taste – hmmm raw sushi, no flavour, very solid clear rubbery texture and no other takers on the beach, not even for a free lunch!
After a very nice lunch brought and prepared by John, we moved to another beach where John had already set some lobster pots out. The beach was like going back in time to the 1950s, rock for sale, a tiny wooden pier for crabbing, a pebbly beach backed by blackberry bushes and rosebay willowherb, plenty of rocks to clamber over, and a fierce underlying current…..
We clambered over the rocky headland to find the lobster pots, hoping we would have a couple of tasty crabs and a few prawns for supper. The pots were attached to the furthest rock by a buoy, and we thought we could crawl across and haul them up from the top of the rocks. Alas, it was not so easy. The beachcombers were not even going to take their winter coats off, John wasn’t keen to sport his wetsuit, it was too cold to even dip a toe, which left it up to Simon and I to put the wet cozzies on and jump in. ‘Don’t worry, you will only get wet up to your necks…” said John kindly. Simon, now in speedos and scarf round his head looking like Triathlon Rambo, and me, bikini on and dagger between teeth a la Ursula Andress in Doctor No, took a leap of faith over the rocks to grab our treasure.
It was hugely invigorating to hurl yourself into swirling seas at 5.30 on a windy cold AUGUST afternoon, certain that you will be sucked down into the depths, or get your foot jammed in between 2 rocks while the sea swirls around over your head…
We dragged the pots up, sliding and slipping over the rocks, with a sense of satisfaction as we could see at least 3 creatures moving around – at last! we had found supper! We had in fact landed 2 velvet swimming crabs, only just big enough to keep, i.e. wider than 16 cm, and male – the females would have had eggs to lay so should be returned to the water. Third creature was a brown crab and he was too small – it was his lucky day!.
We still had to jump back into the sea to collect some Dulse – a slimy long brown strap of seaweed to put in our stew, and some carragheen, which is a setting agent; and finally back up the beach to collect wild seabeet – the forerunner of perpetual spinach, swiss chard etc, and much more succulent and tasty.
We set up camp on the beach, windbreaks, stoves chairs wine etc. along with coats and blankets, for our foraged supper, supplemented, luckily, with some goodies that John had prepared earlier.
We ate our foraged crab and winkles – so sweet and tasty, the dulse and seabeet went into a casserole of tomatoes, mussels and spicy sausage which was quite delicious and the additions making it all the more nutritious; oatcakes made from bacon and Lavabread picked on an earlier foray and washed down with chilled Chardonnay and a finished off with sweet Vanilla Pannacotta set with Sea Carrageen, and topped with wild Sea Buckthorn sauce – made from the tiny orange berries found growing on spiny bushes in the sand dunes. John had collected some armed with marigold gloves and an orange Hawaiian shirt so as not to show the explosions of juice that had erupted as he tried to pluck the berries from the parent plant. The syrup was very unusual in flavour, albeit very tasty, Genghis Khan was purported to swear by it, and as he allegedly has up to 16 million offspring, it must have helped him keep up his strength! It makes sense to keep the windows open if you cook Sea Buckthorn though – it makes the surroundings smell unpleasantly of sick!
We spent a pleasant hour or two on the beach – enjoying the food, sorry we hadn’t collected more, but ever mindful that had we been foraging years ago, what we had actually collected would have been all we had to eat. We were very grateful that we had plenty of food to supplement our supper, and grateful to the little creatures who had lived short happy lives in the shallows, enabling them to grow into tasty morsels for us. Whilst we all sat, congratulating ourselves on how very lucky we were, a giant seagull flew overhead, having spent what appeared to be a night on the tiles as he deposited the contents of his innards all down Sue’s back. VERY LUCKY!
Another great day foraging thanks JW, can’t wait till October 15th!
The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.