Adventures in food - seafood forage with John Wright

 
 

A fun foodie adventure at Summer Lodge

 

Some time ago I read about the food foraging adventures being organised by Summer Lodge in Dorset and made a mental note to attend.  Then I caught a few minutes of River Cottage and saw John Wright gathering mushrooms and thought “what an interesting chap”.  So when I was invited by Kevin Read, Director of Sales at Summer Lodge, to come

Although I had originally seen John collecting mushrooms, this forrage was totally different!

on the seashore forage that they had organised with John how could I refuse?

Rich pickings on the pebbles
We assembled at the car park on the causeway between Weymouth and Portland Bill in what, to my untrained eye, looked a particularly unprepossessing site.  On one side was a strip of scrubby vegetation bordering a sandy strip facing the town and on the other was the huge bank of shingle that is Chesil Beach, and the Fleet Lagoon.

First John took us onto the shingle, which looked totally unpromising.  However, there were some little clumps of weed poking up through the pebbles and we were soon nibbling away on sea puslane – slightly salty, and apparently very tasty on peas or potatoes.  However, John warned us it is an anaphrodisiac (that is it lowers your libido) so probably best avoided if you have come to the seaside for a romantic weekend!

Within a further few pace we discovered sea campion, followed by sea beet, which tasted very like spinach.  A few more strides and it was sea radish, which tastes a bit like cabbage, wasabi and…well…radish.  Then wild carrot, followed by marsh samphire, perennial samphire and rock samphire.  Apparently samphires of all kinds have long been eaten in

John could find all kinds of food in the bank of shingle on Chesil Beach

England. The leaves were gathered early in the year and pickled or eaten in salads with oil and vinegar. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear, and I thought it tasted surprisingly good!

We had only walked about 100 yards and had munched on all these different varieties of free food – I was amazed.  Before crossing the road to the sandy beach on the other side we snacked on some black mustard, which was indeed very mustardy.

Anyone for live razor clam?
Now John had us wading up to the top of our wellies in the clear shallows of gently shelving Weymouth Bay.  Here, apparently we could find clams, cockles and razor clams.  We went for the latter, armed with Saxo Table Salt!  John showed us how to spot their breathing holes in the sand.  We then submerged a hand with a small portion of salt and sprinkled it above the entrance to their submerged burrow.  You wait a few seconds then they pop up their “autonomous siphon” (like a little snorkel).  It protrudes about an inch above the sea bed and you grab it.  The clam tries to pull back but you hold on for about 30 seconds and eventually it gives up – pull too hard and all you are left with is an inch of siphon.

Once out of the water the siphon sometimes falls off, a bit like a lizards tail – the clam surrenders its siphon so only part of it is captured by a predator.  John encouraged a couple of brave foragers to eat the siphon, much to everyone’s disgust!

Then John broke out the shrimping nets and we scooped up a few handfuls before returning to the cars (and discovering a huge clump of St George’s mushrooms right beside the main road, next to wall rocket and some hemlock (not recommended unless you want to paralyse your respiratory system).

On the rocks
We then went up to the lighthouse at the tip of Portland Bill to do a bit of seaweed collecting, but I have to say none of it looked the least bit appetising and apparently needs hours of boiling before it becomes palatable.  I have to confess that by this point I was looking forward to a pint and a packet of crisps!

The other guests then returned to Summer Lodge to dine on some of the ingredients they had foraged during the day.  I, however, had neglected to book, and the restaurant was full.  So, another lesson learned – I must book dinner before the next Summer Lodge Hedgerow Forage on Saturday the 8th of September!