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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Unseasonable thoughts of samphire

I've just been ask to write about what makes foraging for wild food in Suffolk special and thought I should share them. Memories of harvesting samphire from Suffolk's tidal esturaries transported me to the height of summer when Samphire is at its best a stark contrast to this grey January!

Marsh samphire is a tidal plant of the salt marshes and mud flats. The many upspoilt creeks of the Suffolk coast at Blythburgh, Snape and Orford make Suffolk an excellent place to find it.

Not to be confused with Rock Samphire which as the name suggests grows on rocks and cliff faces. These are two totally unrelated plants which have the same name, derived from the French for St Peter - St Pierre after the fisherman saint. As a general rule marsh samphire has its feet firmly in the water and rock samphire always has its feet dry!

They also taste completely different. The former is very salty and is delicious steamed or raw. Rock samphire is very carrotty and has quite a medicinal undertone.

Marsh samphire is a delicious accompaniment to fish and seafood, being both salty and fleshy. It can be lightly steamed and served with butter. Each individual finger of marsh samphire has a central woody core and it should be held by the base and pulled through the teeth so you avoid eating the woody core. Young tips can be eaten as they are because the woody core tends to be only through the bottom half of each ‘finger’. It can be lightly batteered and deep fried to create a delicious snack, use it in salads or served simply with parmesan and olive oil.

Remember to follow the basic rules of foraging: seek permission from land owners before entering private land; keep away from roads, fields that may have been sprayed or busy footpaths popular with dog walkers. You shouldn't collect plants from a protected area such as nature reserve or Site of Special Scientific Interest and always leave a few healthy plants untouched to continue their life cycle.

When picking samphire pinch out or snip off the tops of the plants, leaving the more fibrous stems in the ground; that way, not only will you have less washing and trimming to do, there's also a fair chance that what you've left in the mud will continue to grow.

Foraging for wild food inspires you to look at sometimes everyday plants in a new light. Common weeds often have forgotten uses either culinary or herbal and it's great to get out into the countryside to connect with the natural environment.

Best of all wild food is free and often delicious!

For more information about Food Safari's Wild Food in a Day on the Suffolk coast click here:


Anonymous said...

Oh happy memories! I am spending every walk at the moment looking for the first signs of hawthorn leaves and eyeing up the first shoots of anything that might lead to good things to come in the next few weeks.

Susanna said...

Fascinating stuff about samphire - definitely an unsung food heroe. I've only had it up in Scotland at Arisaig in Glasgow, fab place that specialises in Scottish fare and was itself inspired by childhoods on the west coast. I'll be looking out for it next time I'm out your way...