Foraging on The South West Coast: Finding Food by the Sea
We might be biased, but we reckon that the South West coast is one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. Not only is the Jurassic Coast a truly extraordinary geographic wonder and a World Heritage Site, it is also home to some delightful edibles. Read on to learn more about foraging on the seashores of the beautiful South West Coast.
Before we proceed though, a word of warning. Never, ever, eat anything that you have not positively identified as edible. The safest way to go foraging on the South West Coast is to go with an expert who can make sure that what you are consuming is safe.
Read on to learn more about foraging on the South West Coast Path. Please note that all the species mentioned can be found elsewhere in the UK.
Foraging on the seashore – seaweed
Remember, never eat anything that you have not positively identified as safe.
The humble seaweed is a great source of minerals and can make an excellent addition to loads of dishes. The UK is home to around 20 edible varieties, a few of which are identified below. When foraging for seaweed, remember to cut it with scissors and leave about a third of the length of the plant in the water. Rinse the section that you are going to eat well before beginning to prepare it, this will help to remove the saltwater and any sea creatures.
1. Pepper dulse, Osmundea pinnatifida
Pepper dulse is found throughout Cornwall and South Devon, it is typically found on middle and lower rocky shores. The Marine Life Information Network (MarLIN) describes Pepper dulse as, “ A small red alga (up to 8 cm in length), it is tough and cartilaginous with flattened fronds. Branching is alternate and occurs in one plane only, with branches becoming shorter towards their apex and broadly rounded. The plant is highly variable in size and colouration depending upon its location on the shore. Higher shore plants are generally dwarfed and yellow-green in colour, owing to exposure to high levels of sunshine while on the lower shore they are reddish-brown.”
Pepper Dulse is best eaten in small quantities and has a salty/peppery flavour. It is best enjoyed with fish dishes or in a salad.
2. Saw toothed wrack, Fucus serratus
Fucus serratus, better known as Saw toothed wrack is found throughout Dorset, South Devon, and Cornwall. MarLIN describes it as, “Fucus serratus, the toothed wrack, is a robust, olive-brown shrubby seaweed that grows in high densities low on the seashore. The fronds are about 2 cm wide, splitting in two repeatedly. The fronds bear no air bladders. The whole plant typically grows to about 60 cm long. The fronds have a serrated edge and grow from a short stalk.”
Saw tooth wrack can be used to add flavour to a soup or used to saute fish over. Alternatively, it can also be used as a condiment after being ground into a powder.
3. Bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus
Found along the Dorset, South Devon and Cornish coastline Bladderwrack is described by MarLIN as “a large brown algae, common on the middle shore. It can be found in high densities living for about 4-5 years”. Like other seaweeds on this list, Bladderwrack is great for sauteing fish over. It can also be steamed and eaten as a salad.
Our Wild Woodgas Stove is one of the best bets for cooking up a mini-feast on the shoreline, in combination with a small billy can. Or choose a Rocket Stove if you’ve not got far to walk or are cooking up a larger feast.
Foraging on the seashore – Crustaceans and molluscs
When people think of seashore foraging, it is often some of the animals in this list, such as winkles and mussels, which come to mind. Remember though, these are living creatures so don’t take more than you intend to eat or cause any more suffering to the animal than is necessary.
The other thing to remember is that the quality of the water is important. You can check the quality of the UK’s water on the Environment Agency’s website here. As with seaweed, remember, never eat anything that you have not positively identified as safe and are certain that you know how to prepare.
Folklore states that you should harvest and eat shellfish only in months containing an R. So that’s September through to April. There are many theories as to the roots of this, including the temperature and likelihood of shellfish spoiling; the presence of toxic algae in the water; and allowing for breeding.
Be very careful when foraging for shellfish, only take those that you know beyond doubt are safe to eat.
1. Mussel, Mytilus edulis
The common mussel, Mytilus edulis, is found across the coastline of the South West. Well known and easily identifiable, the common mussel is described by MarLIN as, “the shell is inequilateral and roughly triangular in outline, however, shell shape varies considerably with environmental conditions. Shell smooth with a sculpturing of concentric lines but no radiating ribs. The ligament is inconspicuous. The shell colour varies, usually purple or blue but sometimes brown. Length varies, specimens usually ranging from 5 -10 cm although some populations never attain more than 2-3 cm, and the largest specimens may reach 15 -20 cm.”
If you choose to forage for mussels, then it is best to go for the larger ones that have already had a chance to breed. Look for mussels from beaches which you know are clean (see the Environment Agency link earlier in this blog), and avoid collecting them after rainfall as toxins from the surrounding land may run off into the sea. Mussels are best cooked steamed in wine with some herbs, remember to discard any that have not opened.
2. Periwinkles, Littorina littorea
The common Periwinkle, or Littorina littorea is found on the Dorset coast, on parts of the Devon coast and across the Cornish seashore. In these places, they are typically found on rocky coasts.
The British Periwinkle is described by MarLIN as, “sharply conical [shell] with a pointed apex and surface sculpturing. The spiral ridges are marked in young animals but become obscured in older individuals. This gives the shell a smooth appearance. The shell colour ranges from grey-black-brown-red but is generally black or dark grey-brown, often lighter towards the apex, and is usually patterned with spiral darker lines”.
Periwinkles are very easy to cook. Simply throw them in boiling water and let them boil for around seven minutes. They can be picked out of their shells with a toothpick or pin, they are best eaten flavoured with salt or vinegar.
3. Common cockle (Cerastoderma edule)
The often-overlooked common cockle, or Cerastoderma edule is found throughout the coastline of the South West. Like all filter feeders, you need to be incredibly careful that you are taking it from clean waters and that it is safe to eat. The best way to ensure this is to go foraging with an expert.
Cockles are typically found a few centimeters below the sand or mud and are best collected by being raked out. So, if you’re planning on foraging for cockles don’t forget your rake! Cockles are best cooked by bringing a pot of water to the boil, adding a dash of white wine or lemon juice, then add the cockles to the water. Remember to rinse them beforehand and tap the shells against a hard surface, the shells should close when tapped. If they don’t then discard them.