Foraging, something most of us have attempted, looking for those magical blackberries in over grown hedgerows, but have you ever thought of Isle of Wight Foreshore Foraging? For those interested in wild food the Isle of Wight is a forager’s paradise with vast tracts of unpolluted coastline and countryside. But mention foraging to most people and they conjure up images of late summer afternoons picking blackberries from hedgerows or autumn days gathering chestnuts and hazelnuts in golden dappled woods before all the leaves have dropped and grey-brown winter sets in. That, however, is less than half the story.
Winter on the Island provides wonderful opportunities for foraging. Indeed, what could be better than a bracing day in the countryside or on the foreshore followed by a cosy evening in one of our comfortable self catering holiday cottages enjoying the sumptuous fruits of your labour?!! All washed down perhaps by a crisp glass of something from an Isle of Wight vineyard. Adgestone or Rosemary, take your pick, at both you can try before you buy.
For shellfish lovers our Island foreshores offer rich pickings for foraging, best enjoyed during the winter months. One of my favourite spots is Thorness Bay on the north coast, west of Cowes. Here you can collect the seafood ingredients for my “Isle of Wight Foreshore a la Crème”. These include mussels, cockles, winkles and several different sorts of clam. All that is needed is a bucket and a sharp pair of eyes but a small hand rake is an aid if you want lots of cockles in your mix. On a low spring tide you may also be able to collect oysters but for those of robust constitution, or should I say dentition(!), other species such as limpets and slipper limpets are also common here and are available at low neap as well as low spring tides.
Thorness Bay has a mixture of rocky outcrops, sandy patches and areas of coarse gravel, and this is why so many different edible molluscs can be found there.
In other places the choice is more restricted but just as delicious. To take just one example, Ryde sands, at extreme low spring tide, abounds with Razor Clams. Apart from a bucket or bag, collecting these requires a sneaky trick. The forager must go armed with a tub of salt, creep carefully across the sand looking for burrows and when found pour salt into the hole. Lo and behold! the clam will shoot to the surface where it can be carefully pulled form its lair. For those in the know lobsters can also be found along some rocky stretches of the coast but where is a closely guarded secret!!
Isle of Wight Foreshore a la Crème
Ingredients for two:
1.5 – 2kg mixed cockles, mussels, clams and winkles.
1 small leek
4 large shallots
1 large clove of garlic (more if you prefer)
1/3 bottle dry white wine
30 – 50 cl double cream
Large nob of butter
Cracked black pepper to taste
Sprinkling of dried thyme
Flat leafed parsley
Mix 35 g salt per litre of cold (as cold as you can get it) fresh water sufficient to fill a large baker’s tray and lay the shellfish (excluding the winkles) out in a single layer to purge. Choose somewhere cool and shady for this. I have an aquarium aerator and use this but in cold weather the water retains and gathers enough oxygen to make the use of this unnecessary. Winkles are escape artists so need to be placed in a covered container with the brine solution and plenty of air at the top. All need a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 10 hours for this process after which they should be cleaned and cooked immediately.
Pull the beards from the mussels and wash and scrub the shells of all the shellfish. Discard any bivalve that isn’t closed or doesn’t close when tapped and discard any winkle that is not retracted into its shell. Finely dice the shallots and garlic and in a wide-based shallow pan melt the butter, add and sweat until translucent and tender. While doing this add a twist or two of black pepper and a sprinkling of dried thyme.
Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Clean the leek and dice, and when all the alcohol has evaporated add to the pan, cover, bring to the boil and simmer.
When the leeks are par cooked bring to a rolling boil, add the shellfish, cover and return to the boil as fast as possible. Keep covered for a couple of minutes and then inspect. When all the clams, cockles and mussels have opened adjust the seasoning (salt usually not required) and add the cream. Warm thoroughly but do not boil.
Add the chopped flat leafed parsley and serve in large warmed bowls with plenty of crusty French bread.
A note on garlic: I grow my own from seed obtained from the Garlic Farm owned and operated by Isle of Wight Farm and Country Holidays members Colin and Jenny Boswell. The variety I prefer for this recipe is the delicious, easy to grow and long keeping Solent Wight – and I use two large cloves! Enjoy.
More on foreshore and countryside foraging in future posts by Isle of Wight Farm and Country Holidays.