December foraging guide: best foods to find and recipe ideas

Eager foragers should head to the coast in winter – it's one of the most fruitful times to find a fabulous feast, including shellfish and tasty greens

Cockles shellfish bivalves in colander

Mussels

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MAN PICKS FRESH MUSSELS OFF THE ROCKS IN SCOTLAND
Mussel power – foraging on the west coast of Scotland. Getty Images/<a href=”http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/search/photographer?family=creative&photographer=Justin+Lambert”>Justin Lambert</a>

Perhaps the best protein-for-effort return of all foraged foods in the UK. Be ever-wary of the tides as you forage on the rocks at the lowest ebb. Pick mussels only where you are sure the water is clean (a blue flag beach is best). The rocky coasts of Cornwall, Devon, the Gower and Pembrokeshire are ideal.

You can leave the mussels in a bucket of clean saltwater overnight to allow them to purge themselves of any grit. Scrub off the beards and barnacles and cook in the French moules mariners style (steamed in butter and wine).

Cockles

Cockles shellfish bivalves in colander
A good harvest of cockles – cleaned and ready for cooking. Getty Images/<a href=”http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/search/photographer?family=creative&photographer=Pierre+Longnus”>Pierre Longnus</a>

Harder to find than mussels – you need to dig or rake sandy beaches at low tide when vast stretches of sand are exposed. Cockle shells are a useful clue. You don’t need to dig far and if you find one cockle, you’re likely to find a group.

Keep your catch overnight in clean seawater to allow them to clean themselves. The class spaghetti vongole is a favourite way to eat cockles – a simple delicious pasta sauce with the cockles steamed open.

Marsh samphire

Common glasswort (Salicornia europaea)
Marsh samphire is a distinctive plant of estuaries and sandbanks. Getty Images/Ian Redding

This is the samphire that you find in more enterprising fishmongers but is easily foraged for – if you know the right beaches. It is found in the sandy, muddy intertidal zones, so is only exposed at low tide. Pick the tips.

Also known as glasswort, it has a succulent, crunchy stem and is better swiftly steamed – 2-3 minutes at best – then served in unsalted butter. It can be extremely salty so wash in fresh water several times before cooking.

Seabeet

Sea chard or beet Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima growing on the coast of Galicia, Spain
Sea beet grows close to, but not in, the sea. It is often found on sea walls and between beach and dunes. Getty Images/arousa

Seabeet looks very like thicker, shinier, juicier spinach and is the ancestor of sugar beet, beetroot, chard and perpetual spinach. Yet, strangely it is only ever found a few hundred yards from the sea.

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Wash it to get rid of salt and braise in butter. It keeps its shape but tastes like the finest spinach with a touch of added sweetness and a deeper, less bitter undertone. It can be abundant but only ever pick a few leaves from each plant you find.