Things to do in the school holidays: Seashore forage and feast
May 31, 2018
*Post features gifted clothing from Regatta
Eating food that you’ve collected yourself is one of life’s great free pleasures I think. Local, plastic-free and involving fresh air and occupying the children at the same time means that it is win-win – just as long as you are confident that what you are collecting is definitely edible and not poisonous.
We joined Cornwall Wildlife Trust and expert forager Stuart Woodman on Rock beach this week for a guided foraging walk along the coast path and back along the seashore on the beach. It was a super two hours which was as interesting for the adults as well as the children and ended with Stuart cooking up seashore chickpea frittatas containing wild fennel, nettle, ribwort plantain, young hogwort, sea spinach and rock samphire, all of which we found within 15 minutes walk of the carpark at Rock Beach.
After several days of predicted rain which actually turned out to be gorgeous hot sunshine, the rains finally did come. I spent the morning in the water having a surfing lesson and then hot-footed it over to Rock to join the rest of the family for the forage. It was a bit of a shock to the old system to have to wear wellies and waterproofs but the kids were delighted with their new waterproofs we were sent by Regatta, having outgrown their old ones and needing more summer weight options. It might have been wet but it really wasn’t cold.
I’d chosen for Pip this navy waterproof in a nipped in waist parka style and for Buster a lightweight but robust puddle suit with full-length zip which he has put fully through its paces. It didn’t keep him fully dry but then no suit could have ever hoped to. He was wading in water over his wellies and sitting in a pool that he dammed with some bigger children but it did keep off the rain.
This event was just one of a series of events that Cornwall Wildlife Trust organise across the county, introducing wildlife and nature to children and was the perfect mid-week half term event. Whilst we felt like we were out and in the middle of nowhere, we were actually within 15 minutes walk of the carpark at Rock Beach and the toilets/cafes etc, so there was no need to bring loads of kit. Stuart himself produced a chopping board, folding knife, cooking bits and a camping stove from his shoulder bag and he carried a small basket – the things that he taught us were simple and easily replicable.
I particularly liked how we were armed immediately with useful information. Did you know, for example, that you are allowed to forage the four ‘f’s: flowers, fruit, foliage and fungi but not roots and the recommended forager’s best practice is to only take up to 1/3 of whatever is available. He also showed us the best way to pick things including tips for picking stinging nettles, which are very good for you and contain vitamins A, C and D.
The first thing we picked was wild fennel, which was clinging to the sandy edge of the coast path. With a strong aniseed smell when rolled between the fingers and a delicate feathery texture, we crisped some up later when we cooked our evening meal and served it atop a dish of Brill and Cornish new pototoes.
This curious looking thing which is rather like a pine cone was a ribwort plantain. It’s leaves are even better than dock leaves for putting on nettle stings and the dark seed at the top tastes just like mushrooms. It felt a little strange to be nibbling on these little plants which I see growing all over the place but the taste was not unpleasant at all.
Wild furled young hogweed leaves are a bit like wild asparagus but these are so easily confused with more poisonous plants, and even hogweed can cause skin burns if the sap gets on the skin and exposed to sunlight, so this is one I will leave to the experts, however, it did smell very tasty.
We then left the cliff path and climbed down to the beach. There we found sea spinach and rock samphire growing in plentiful amounts at the back of the beach. Sea spinach, or sea beets as it is also known, can be eaten raw but is apparently better cooked as this helps remove the bitterness. The leaves are a glossy shiny green and those little nobbly seed bits I am assured taste like sweetcorn (which I didn’t get). The leaves wilt down much like regular spinach when cooked.
The rock samphire had an amazing taste, reminding both Martin and me of a Riesling with a sort of gasoline like taste. We brought some home which we cooked with our Brill and asparagus, and ate with our afformentioned Riesling. It was delicious.
The actual cooking was also fascinating – Stuart mixed up a batter from chick pea water and chick pea flour and after cutting up all the things we’d found, he combined them into a batter which he then fried in hot oil. We all had a taste and where things had been slightly bitter, they were all now sweet and tasty. I’d never thought to use either chick pea water or flour and so plan to try and replicate them again at home, where they’d make an interesting starter or canape, and would certainly make a good talking point!