For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed foraging through hedgerows. The simple delights of finding a bumper crop of elderflower or an unspoilt patch of blackberries is always guaranteed to bring a smile to my face.
However, despite having lived in a seaside town for five years now, I had never paid much attention to the culinary treats that are so in abundance on the shores of the south east coast. Not until a few weeks ago anyway.
It all began with a trip to my favourite beach with my best friend and children about three weeks ago. The heatwave was in full swing and we decided that the only sensible option was to head to the seaside to cool off and enjoy a beach bbq.
Upon arriving and picking our perfect beach spot, we noticed that there were hundreds of Mussels strewn around the beach. It is certainly not unusual to spot a Mussel or two but this time it was quite exceptional. They were clearly still alive as when we picked up a couple for closer inspection they closed their shells tightly down. My friend and I spent a few minutes discussing whether these Mussels could be safely added to our bbq as a little extra treat. However, as neither of us was sure on whether this would be safe, we did the only sensible thing and left the Mussels alone (much to their relief I am sure!)
It was in this moment that I decided I wanted to learn more about coastal foraging and collecting and cooking all things “sea-sidey”. When we returned home from our trip, I wasted no time in getting online and ordering myself a book on the subject.
The book I chose was “Edible Seashore” by John Wright. When the book arrived I was delighted. It was everything I wanted and more! It covered everything from coastal plants to seaweeds to shellfish to crustaceans and told you where to expect to find them and what time of year to collect them. There were even a selection of recipes to follow in the back of the book. I couldn’t recommend this book more to anyone looking to get into coastal foraging and if you do want to purchase a copy you can do so here (affiliate link).
After reading and absorbing the contents of the book, I was still hungry for more. I decided the next logical step was to actually see if there were any local coastal foraging tours near me. I struck gold with my searching as not only was there a man running local tours, he was holding one that very weekend. Needless to say, I booked my place on that pretty quickly indeed!
And that is how I ended up finding myself standing on this beautiful stretch of Sussex coastline one Sunday evening in August.
It was 6.30pm, approximately 45 minutes before low tide and I was assembled at our “meeting point” along with 6 other foraging novices. All of us eager to learn a little more about the treats that the seashore can offer. Our guide gathered us all together and explained that we would begin by walking on the beach and trying to spot some edible coastal plants.
As we strolled along the beach, the satisfying crunch of pebbles underfoot, it was not long before our guide stopped. He turned to the cliffs and pointed to a plant surrounding the base of the cliffs. This was it, our first find! I waited in anticipation to hear about what we had located….. it was “Rock Samphire”. I knew from reading my book that rock samphire was not as tasty as the similarly named “Marsh Samphire”, but that certainly didn’t dampen my spirit at locating it. I was amazed at how quickly we had managed to locate something edible and I made a mental note to remember the exact location so I could try and locate it again by myself!
It wasn’t more than another four or five steps before our guide halted again. This time, we had located “Sea Kale”. This was one plant I had been hoping to find, as I knew they were fairly rare but I also knew that it would be one plant I would love to try cooking with. It is important to mention here that when you do encounter more rare plants, remember that they are rare. Do not strip the plant of all its leaves and do not take from all the plants you encounter. It is far kinder to take just one or two leaves from a few plants to ensure that they can continue to grow and thrive. Of course, this advice applies to all foraged food, but it is especially important to adhere to when dealing with less common plants. We didn’t collect any Sea Kale as it is actually better to collect earlier in the year, but I did of course take a picture of both that and the Rock Samphire.
It was then time to head across the beach to the rockpools in search of seaweed. Our guide informed us that on this specific stretch of coast we could expect to find up to 40 species of edible seaweed to enjoy and it wasn’t long before we stumbled across our first specimen. As I stood amongst the rockpools, seawater up to my calves, I was introduced to “Gutweed”, a seaweed which my recently purchased book informed me was fantastic for drying and then sprinkling on to pizzas or pasta.
From then on, we scrambled across the rocks and through the water, stopping every few steps to learn about another seaweed. Laver, Bladderwrack and Carragheen were our next finds and our guide explained in detail what each variety could be used for and how and when to best harvest it.
As we got a little further out, we discovered the seaweeds “Dulse” and “Pepper Dulse”. I gingerly picked a couple of fronds of Pepper Dulse and cautiously popped them into my mouth. The resulting flavour was unexpectedly delicious. It certainly lived up to its name, giving a spicy, peppery tang. I can quite understand why it is recommended that this variety can be used as a seasoning or turned into a peppery sauce to accompany fish. Though I had completely forgotten to bring a bag to collect any seaweed to take home, I made a quick judgement call with the Pepper Dulse and popped a handful into my coat pocket to take home and experiment with!
Our next bit of excitement was when we located Kelp and Sugar Kelp. These specific seaweeds are only able to be collected at low tide as they do not like to be out of the water for long at all and so you will not find them higher up the beach. Our guide had timed things perfectly so that we were scouting out our seaweed at the exact point of low tide. We came across a beautiful stretch of Sugar Kelp and our guide told us about how Kelp and Sugar Kelp can be dried out to make “seaweed crisps” and how kelp is also an integral ingredient in the Japanese stock, Dashi which is used to make the famous “Miso Soup”
By this point, my mind was almost overflowing with all this new and interesting information, but there was one more seaweed that we were to learn about. Our guide informed us that we were searching for a red coloured seaweed that looked like spaghetti. After a brief clamber over some more rocks, he spotted it. The seaweed in question was named “Gracilaria” and is a very popular seaweed in both Hawaiian and Japanese cuisine (In Japan they refer to it is Ogonori).
Our guide told us that we were going to collect some and cook it up on the beach so we could all try it. I nibbled a bit straight from the plant and was so taken with the flavour that I decided my coat pockets just weren’t quite full (or wet) enough and just had to be filled to the brim with this delicious seaweed too!
It was then time to make our way back down the beach to our starting point to cook up and try some of the seaweeds. As I strolled across the shore, I felt completely happy. It was such a beautiful, peaceful location and the seaweed foraging was most definitely good for the soul! I must admit I can be guilty of saying a few bad words about this country that I live in (though that is generally aimed towards the people that run it) but that evening, in the calmness of the gentle, late summer breeze, I was reminded of just how lucky I am to live in England and specifically, in the South Coast where food can be so bountifully grown and sourced.
Once back on the shore, our guide began cooking the seaweeds for us to try. It was an interesting experience and I must admit, I wasn’t too keen on the tough nature of the Kelp. However, the Gracilaria didn’t disappoint and I was very pleased that I had chosen to stuff my pockets with it! Our guide blanched the Gracilaria and then added a Japanese style dressing made from Soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine, ginger and spring onion and it was beautiful.
I made a mental note to remember the ingredients and do my best to recreate the dish at home! I am pleased to say my memory didn’t fail me (though I did slightly tweak the recipe) and I managed to recreate the dish to suit my taste. I did film this, as I felt my first ever foraged dish deserved to be recorded and in the next few days I will be adding the recipe to my Youtube channel. I will update the link on here once it is online.
So, reflecting on my first steps into coastal foraging, I have to say I think I have definitely found a new hobby! I have loved everything about coastal foraging so far. From learning about the different things that can be sourced for free so locally to where I live, to the excitement of actually going out and finding these things for myself! I know that I have only just dipped my toe in the water (yes, that pun is completely intended) where coastal foraging is concerned, but one thing is for sure, I am certainly not stopping here and I absolutely cannot wait to get back out to the seaside and carry on learning!