The first nation’s people of British Columbia in Canada have a saying that “When the tide goes out the table is set” and I strongly suspect that the ancient Druids of Anglesey would have had a similar saying had they not been massacred by the invading Romans in AD 77. There’s a very good reason our ancestors often lived close to the coast and it had less to do with stunning views and high property prices, than the easy availability of food.
Coastal foraging has fascinated me since childhood, and the vast range of gourmet foods that can be found on our shores is definitely something we should all get excited about. I run coastal survival and coastal foraging courses through my company Dryad Bushcraft, which is based on the Gower peninsular in South Wales. This gives me an opportunity to pass on some of that knowledge to other people, as well as allowing me to make a living while working where I’m happiest, in the great outdoors.Andrew playing hide and seek with a photographer.
As a presenter on the ITV Series Coast and Country I get to see a lot of this wonderful country of ours, and with over 870 miles of coastline in Wales the opportunities for a seashore adventure is never far away. For me a visit to Anglesey isn’t complete without a low tide walk along the shore, and usually results in me returning home with a few tasty maritime treats as a bonus.Being filmed cooking mussels on the Menai Strait.
Much of the national identity of Wales is based around food, and it should come as no surprise to learn that many of the most iconic foods in Wales come from the sea; perhaps the best known of these is laverbread.
Laverbread, is made from the seaweed Porphyra umbilicalis. The seaweed is collected at low tide where it can be found attached to rocks, cleaned and boiled for a very long time until it breaks down into an unappetizing looking sludge. But despite its appearance laverbread is absolutely delicious, and is traditionally served with bacon and eggs as a breakfast dish. Laverbread is ridiculously good for you, and contains high levels of protein as well as iron and iodine. It also contains high levels of vitamins B2, A, D and C. The same seaweed can be found in other parts of the world, and in Japan it is used in sushi and known as nori.
Periwinkles (Littorina littorea) are a very common find in rock pools, and despite their diminutive size they can be found in enormous quantities. They are a type of snail which feed off algae. They can be cooked by boiling for several minutes, and then the meat extracted from their tough shell using a pin or sharp thorn. Periwinkles have been used as food for thousands of years, and the shells can often be found in huge numbers among stone age rubbish dumps known as shell middens.
Mussels (Mytilus edulis) Can be found attached to rocks at various stages of tide and are a really worthwhile food source. They are another bivalve (filter feeder) so should only be collected in areas with good water quality. Mussels have tear drop shaped shells which range from blue grey to black in colour. They can often be found in huge quantities, and are one of my favorite seashore feasts. To prepare the mussels for eating they should be soaked in clean fresh water for several hours to allow any sand or grit to be purged. Then the shells should be scraped free of barnacles and the beard removed. The beard is the hair like threads which attach the mussels to rocks. Once clean the mussels can be steamed in a pan, preferably with some white wine, garlic, shallots and cream, a dish the French call ‘Moules Mariniere’. Another more simple “Stone Age”method of cooking them is to place them on the sand with the hinge of the shell facing up, and lighting a small fire of grass and fine twigs over the top. This cooks the mussels in their shells, adding a delicious smoky flavour in the process.Mussels are one of Andrews three top picks for foraging around the seashore.
There are some safety issues with regards to coastal foraging. The first is to be aware of the tides and how fast the sea comes in. It’s very easy to become preoccupied by foraging and to become cut off by the incoming tide. There have been many fatalities over the years, so please tell people where you’re going, and get up to date information about the tidal conditions in the areas you intend to forage. Another factor worth considering is the cleanliness of the water. Bivalves filter their food from the water, so if there are industrial pollutants etc in the sea they can become concentrated. A natural phenomenon known as red tide is an Algae bloom in the water. This can result in filter feeders such as mussels and clams being contaminated by a neurotoxin known as brevetoxin which can be fatal to humans. Fortunately this is quite a rare occurrence.
I should also add that while I fully support ethical foraging for personal consumption, collecting for commercial gain is tightly regulated in order to maintain healthy stocks of marine life. I have seen razor clams all but eradicated from the Gower coast by overzealous and illegal commercial gangs, so a good rule of thumb is to only take what you intend to eat, and take a few specimens from different locations to avoid stripping a single area.
Stay safe and Happy Foraging.
Andrew Thomas PriceSince he was able, Andrew has spent every spare moment in the pursuit of adventure. He has travelled extensively all over the world in order to study the traditional skills of indigenous peoples including the Orang Astli people of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, as well as the native inhabitants of Australia and Canada.He is an experienced practitioner of a wide range of outdoor pursuits including kayaking, cycling, rock climbing, and mountaineering. He is also passionate about film making and the dramatic arts, graduating in 1997 with a Degree in Media and Theatre studies.
“I first became interested in learning how to live in the outdoors at a very young age when my father showed me how to catch sea bass and mackerel around the Gower coast, from an old canvas and wood kayak. Later, I would spend every spare moment exploring the woods close to my home, or reading about the great explorers and their exploits. At the age of eighteen I took part in a Raleigh International expedition to Malaysia, an experience that would change my life and set me on the course to travel all over the world, and to discover all I could about the natural world and the lives of its indigenous people.”