Friday, 11 February 2011

Winkels good, Dog Whelks bad

There are millions of winkles about, but not quite as many millions as I had first thought:  Lots of them are in fact dog whelks, which taste shit.

It didn't take long for Leo and I to gather a couple of handfuls of the critters, despite the fact that Leo didn't help at all.  He did, however, pluck one winkle off a rock, hold it up to his face and say "are you ok?" before quickly launching it as far as physically possible. Didn't even give it a chance to answer - guess we'll never know.

After letting the crustaceans purify themselves in salted water for a few hours...I cooked them to death:  Fried some onion, carrot, garlic, and then added a handful of bladderwrack (because it was growing where the winkles came from) and a bit of water.  I added the winkles to the pot, put the lid on, and steamed them for five minutes.

Then I ate them, which is very satisfying (if you haven't done it before):  You stick a pin or a cocktail stick into the opening and pull out the good stuff; a wierd slimy grey curly thing.  It's a bit off putting at first, but when you stop and think what a mussel looks like...Anyway, I will definitely eat them again, but give dog whelks a miss (maybe they taste bad because they are carnivores).  My winkles were nice, though - not at all tough, like you would expect.

Winkles and Dog Whelks are fortunately quite easy to tell apart:  Dog whelks have a white/ grey shell, with a distinct groove on the rim of the opening, which is where they shoot out their evil sucker thing.  Winkles are more greenish/ dark grey, and usually squirt a bit of water at you when you pull them off a rock.  Which is fair enough, really.

ps The above is also another way not to eat bladderwrack.  There must be a way...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Winter foraging tip: Rob your local Nursery

I have discovered a great place to ensure a bountiful return on a winter forage:  Your local nursery (yes the plant kind, the kind that won't get you arrested).

The most common weed which grows in compost (and therefore in and around almost every pot in some nurseries) is Hairy Bittercress.  It has a peppery note, not unlike watercress, though subtler.  I can't believe I said note.  As it's quite a small plant, it's normally a bit of effort to gather enough to make it worthwhile, but not so in a nursery...

Although Hairy Bittercress is an unwanted weed, it's probably best to ask permission from the nursery staff before picking some.  I didn't, but I like to live dangerously:  Whilst Leo created a distraction by climbing through the Christmas tree packing machine, I furtively filled my pockets, keeping a beedy eye on the gnarly old gardener behind the Agapanthus.

Pockets full, I picked up a small gooseberry bush, and headed for the till in the shed by the entrance.  The gardener clocked me, thrust his shears deep into a nearby pot, and slowly staggered towards me. "Morning" he said.  But it wasn't morning at all, it was lunch time.  He knew.  I could feel my heartbeat pounding as I handed over the cash with a shaking, sweaty palm.

"Turned out ok, hasn't it?" said the gardner, briefly glancing up at the grey sky, before fixing me with an intent, searching look.  He handed me my change.  "Turned out ok?" I thought.  What does that mean!?  It's not ok!  It's cold, a bit windy, and it's only just stopped raining!  While I struggled to grasp his hidden meaning, I felt panic rising up within, and realised that I would't be able to hold my nerve for much longer.  "YES IT'S OK TURNED OK OUT" I blurted, then ran to the car, bundled Leo and the gooseberry bush into the back seat, jumped into the front, and fled for the hills...

Later, safely home, I created the prettiest dish I have ever made, and the best possible dish for a blog, because it wasn't especially tasty.  I turned the Hairy Bitter cress into a kind of pesto (oil, parmesan, and pepper) which I dolloped on top of Sea Beet potato cakes, which sat on a bed of mixed green leaves and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds.  My Sea Beet potato cakes were supposed to be Sea Beet and Mackerel potato cakes, but I couldn't find any mackerel in the fridge.  They were still nice, but essentially just bubble and squeak.