It's interesting looking back to see that I wasn't that taken with pickled samphire the first time I tried it. That was before I discovered this combination:
This is divine! With samphire thus elevated to the status of a delicacy, I consider it well worth the effort of gathering it.
There's also vinegar to consider. Last year I attempted to make vinegar. There's a brief note of the result hidden away in this post. Having looked at the relative prices of decent vinegar and
pickling vinegar I bought the cheap stuff. It was pretty dreadful but even with that, pickled samphire was good. This year I have kombucha, which will make vinegar from sugar if left alone for long enough. I fed it some of the too-sweet oak leaf wine and now I have some pretty awesome (and very strong) vinegar.
Last Saturday I was in town around lunch time, so checked the tide times and as luck would have it, low tide was about 1pm, so I went up to the estuary (town is kind-of on the way) to check out the samphire.
I could see it - at least I thought I could, as soon as I parked the car.
Closer inspection confirmed this.
I haven't seen such big plants before - these are fantastic. I think maybe I've been later in the season in previous years, after sheep have been allowed to graze here. I spent an hour and a half foraging, and collected rather more than I usually do in in two or more hours. After that, I walked down to the beach.
That's really not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Of course, once I got all that samphire home, I had to process it. That means carefully picking it over, rinsing off the sand and any seaweed and small shellfish that I'd missed when picking, and pinching off only the tenderest pieces for pickling, leaving the parts that have a woody core. It took ages, but it's worth it.
A few notes on pickling: For a crisper result, I now know to use cold vinegar. The tannin from the oak leaves should also help with crispness. However, I did heat the vinegar first to kill it. I want an inert pickle, not one that's going to eat its way through the samphire. I also mixed the vinegar with some beer that had been flavoured with rosebay willowherb tips. The vinegar was so strong that it could do with diluting a bit, and this beer adds a complementary flavour. During the heating phase, I infused some garlic mustard seeds, too. Then while I was making a cup of tea and looking at a pan of hot pickling liquid, I poured milk into the pan. Don't do that.
The best thing to do at that point was, I decided, to leave the kitchen and drink my tea. By the time I came back, the milk had separated somewhat, so I strained out the curds, left it to settle, carefully poured off the clearer liquid... repeated. There's a slight cloudiness in the bottom of my jar of samphire, and no doubt there's some whey in the pickling liquid. In that much vinegar I doubt it'll have any impact, but I repeat, I don't recommend doing that. Even so, pickled samphire is still worth it.
*It's a digestive biscuit, just for Cat ;-)