After a few balmy, sunshine filled days at the beginning of the month, March has quickly turned cold again, with much of the country wrapped in a blanket of snow. At the moment it feels like we are locked in a battle between Spring and Winter and the tender new plant growth that has precociously sprung up has been blasted by frost. When the hedgerows are battered with bad weather I like to head for the coast where there is usually always some tasty wild food to be found. Late Winter & early Spring is a great time for seashore foraging: we get extra low tides which are ideal for gathering seaweeds and exploring undiscovered bays usually cut off by the sea.
Laver – nori – Porphyra umbilicalis
This is one of my favourite coastal foods and can be found on rocks at low tide.
In Wales, where I live, laver is traditionally boiled for several hours, until thick and gelatinous, then rolled in oat and fried into patties. I like to eat it dried and toasted. It needs lots of washing as sand collects in the delicate folds and dries very quickly in the sun or above a range. Don’t be tempted to dry it in the oven as the house will smell very bad, very quickly! Once dried it can be toasted in a hot oven or frying pan for a couple of minutes – it will change colour and turn bright green. It can then be eaten as a crispy snack or crumbled onto rice or vegetables. Traditionally it is picked in the Winter, after the first frosts and eaten dried from a paper bag as a snack.
Growing up on the Kent coast my grandfather would often take me to a little cockle & whelk shop in Margate. The taste of Dulse seaweed reminds me of all these nostalgic flavours of the sea, in plant form – it is also called vegetarian oyster. I like it dried and chopped up with potatoes or sprinkled into savoury cheese dishes. Dulse needs a quick rinse and can be dried in the same way as laver.
Cut seaweeds with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving a good third of the stipe attached to the holdfast on the rock to regrow.
Rock Samphire – Crithmum maritimum
The fresh tips of this aromatic plant can be found from late Winter, growing precariously on the edge of cliffs and can be picked throughout Spring and Summer. If you nibble it raw it has quite a pungent herby flavour but this softens with cooking. Boil, steam or stir fry for a few minutes and drizzle with olive oil and & black pepper for a side vegetable. It is naturally salty and can also be pickled and is popular eaten with seafood.
One of my favourite old sayings “When Gorse is in Bloom, Kissing is in Season” rings true any time of the year, as anyone who is familiar with the flower will know that there will always be some around somewhere. There are great swathes of it growing on the cliffs near me and the dazzlingly bright yellow flowers and intoxicating smell of coconut is a welcome dose of sunshine, especially in Winter.
Gorse flowers have a slightly bitter, floral flavour, with a hint of coconut. They are a pretty addition sprinkled onto salads and make a delicate, refreshing cordial.
Gorse Flower Cordial
As many gorse petals as you can pick! Ideally, at least a litre jugful.
Juice & zest of 2 oranges
Pick the gorse flowers on a dry sunny day, ideally when you can smell the coconut fragrance as this will give a more flavoursome cordial.
Put the blossoms in a pan and cover with boiling water. You just want to add enough water to submerge the flowers. Leave to steep overnight. Strain through a jelly bag or piece of muslin. Add the zest and juice from the oranges. Measure out the liquid and pour back into the pan. Add 700 g of sugar per litre of liquid and heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour into hot sterilised bottles if you want to keep it for a few months, otherwise bottle into clean containers and keep in the fridge.