On the spring morning we had arranged to meet with Duncan Smallman to go on a foraging expedition on the north-west corner of the island, Kenneth was called away at the last moment to the mainland, so I set off on my own.
Duncan lives on neighbouring Easdale Island (about which you’ll hear more in time to come), and he organises foraging trips both where he lives and on beaches close by. He is a marine biologist and his great skill lies in sharing his wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm when it comes to the recognition, harvesting and cooking of the amazing seaweed we have here, right on our own doorstep.
On this bright, blue and unusually still morning we set off, following the path that starts behind the Tigh and Truish Inn (one of the first buildings you come to on Seil Island after crossing the famous Bridge over the Atlantic from the mainland). The path leads first through a meadow and then down a steep path to the beach. It was so still I could hear the purr of a fishing boat just off the Isle of Mull miles and miles away, as though it was close to our own shore here on Seil.
Once down on the beach I was provided with a hard helmet and gloves (it was seriously slippery underfoot at times), and off we set. Over the next couple of hours I learned a vast amount – about what constitutes a beach to begin with, and where the many different varieties of seaweed are to be found. I sampled a good number and was surprised at the differences in both appearance and taste. There’s an awful lot more to it than just tasting of salt and the sea!
Soon enough, close to the high water mark, we found a carpet of Eggwrack. The ‘blisters’ can be harvested and used just as they are, or pickled in vinegar for keeping. They taste like capers, but nicer!
Together with the Eggwrack I was shown a little treasure: red tufted algae called Vertebrata Lanosa – seriously delicious, with a taste similar to that of truffle. I’ll use this as a spice/flavour enhancer.
By the time the morning was done we had gathered a full bucket of goodies and Duncan came back to our kitchen to cook. What a treat! Tangle (brown bands) were cut into strips and once they hit the heat of the frying pan they looked like green tagliatelle where they were scrambled together with garlic and bacon. Lovely and tender, and what a flavour.
Some ‘Irish moss’ (that will be familiar to some as Carrageen) was heated up with double cream and honey. The liquid was then poured into ramekins, resulting (once cooled) in sweet, perfectly set little puddings, the Carrageen acting as a natural thickener.
I will never look at a beach in the same way again. Suffice to say I’ve already been back to our own for more, and I’ve begun to experiment here in the kitchen on Seil.
Read more about Duncan’s expeditions – and see more images – on his website: www.slateislandsseaweed.com
Trips with him can be organised through Slate Islands Seaweed Ltd.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01852 300314