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Wales, United Kingdom
You know those diagrams in science textbooks that show the water cycle? Water evaporates from the sea and cools as it rises over the land until it condenses into clouds. Well that's where I live - where the clouds are born. It's very beautiful here, and it's also very damp. I don't yet know what I'll be writing about here. I had a blog a few years ago called, "Growing Things and Making Things," and there will be some continuity with that, but my life has moved on since then. I'm at a stage of reflection and re-evaluation - you could call it a mid life crisis - and this blog will reflect that. There'll be posts about things I'm doing - foraging, cooking, crafts, daft experiments (which may overlap with any or all of the other three) - posts about my thoughts on life, photos of beautiful Welsh scenery, maybe some Welsh language, and probably a bit of politics. Because it's important.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Marsh samphire

I sat down to write this post yesterday, but started looking for something that happened (on facebook) back in August, when I picked the samphire, and got sidetracked looking at photos of the summer

Try again: I think it was Jade who, in high summer (and it really was!) alerted to me samphire season, but I can't find any record of it, so it might not have been her. Anyway, samphire was on a list of plants I wanted to try, so this was the time to go out looking for it. Marsh samphire (which is not the same thing as rock samphire, which I haven't tried yet) grows in salty marshland, such as estuary mud. I know of an estuary not far from here, so a friend and I set off there at low tide to seek out the samphire. We found wild carrots on the way, which was quite exciting, and when we reached the estuary we were greeted with an expanse of scrubby green:

It was only when I bent to tie my shoelace that I realised we wouldn't need to go far...

Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea), not yet looking like mini-cacti, but distinctive nonetheless

In amongst the grass, and the same colour and height, was masses of samphire! It was fiddly to pick, especially as it was all too easy to pull the roots out of the soft sand (best to leave them, and give the plant a chance to regrow), but I'd brought a small pair of scissors with me, and the only limits to how much we could collect were our patience and backache.

I ate some of it fresh - the crisp, salty tang is delicious - but pickled most of it. I was inspired to do this by John Seymour who says,

Samphire also makes a most magnificent pickle: fill a jar with it, add peppercorns and grated horseradish; then pour in a boiling mixture of dry cider and vinegar in equal quantities, or else just vinegar.
It's as close to a recipe as he ever gets. I had some pickling vinegar, but it had previously been used to pickle eggs. Luckily, having been standing for some time, the smell of eggs was greatly reduced. I found various instructions online for removing the smell of eggs, that all involved boiling in vinegar. I boiled it for a while, both to increase its strength and further reduce the smell of eggs. Instead of peppercorns and horseradish I added a few mustard leaves and some garlic mustard seeds. I didn't have any cider, but I had left half a bottle of bay herb ale (I'll tell you about that at some point) in my neighbours' fridge which tasted cider-ish, and after standing for a few weeks was probably quite vinegar-ish, too. I also added a generous splash of cider vinegar.

After leaving the pickle to mature for a while, and before the samphire season was quite over, I was getting interested in lacto-fermentation. Since this is essentially wild pickling, why not try it with samphire? I went back to pick some more and the plants were much bigger, but had a tough, woody core, so I ended up picking off lots of tiny, tender tips from the plants I'd brought home. It was very fiddly and I didn't end up with very much samphire in my jar. This left lots of air where I'd rather have only carbon dioxide. Here's the result:

Conventionally pickled samphire on the left, lacto-fermented samphire on the right

Never mind about the mould, I thought, it's only on the surface - I'll just remove it when I want to eat the samphire. When I opened the jar it smelled terrible but, undeterred, I removed the mould and a thick layer of samphire from the top. Unfortunately the lacto-fermented samphire, whilst otherwise quite nice, was tainted by the mould. It's OK, but not the best. The conventially pickled samphire wasn't that great, either. The vinegar was rather strong - perhaps I reduced it too much - and was that still a hint of egg? Maybe mustard wasn't the right seasoning, either. The samphire had also lost its crispness, which is a large part of the appeal in the first place.

On the whole, while fresh samphire is delicious, I found pickled samphire a bit disappointing. I'll probably try lacto-fermentation again, and hope to overcome the mould issues. If I get it right, I think that'll be a really nice pickle.

Also harvesting this week
Broad beans
Blusher mushroom (dried)

Also eating
Bramble jelly
Rosehip toffees
Sloes (picked at my sister's) with stewed Bramley apples made the basis for a great 'plum sauce'
Gutweed (from dried) - I'd forgotten how gritty this batch was. I think the rest may go on the compost heap.

Also drinking
Blackcurrant cordial
Honeysuckle and dandelion ale
Hopped ale
Sloe wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

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