One of the great joys of spending time at the beach is observing the changes of tide and weather over a month. The influence of the moon very rapidly becomes apparent.
Sometimes there is a neap tide, when the water hardly changes from one part of the day to another, and then there is the high tide or the Grande Maree (en Bretagne), when the moon is full! The water is either touching the dunes or so far away as to be hardly visible. At these very low tides in Brittany people are out gathering food. They may be shrimping or looking for wild oysters, but often they are gathering that favourite Celtic food; seaweed.
When I read Kendra’s post from Chelsea, she mentioned the Hebridean Cottage with it’s harvest of seaweed, I was struck about the importance this crop has around the ‘Celtic Fringe’. I know about Laver Bread in Wales, when I switched on the radio the other day I heard a discussion about gathering seaweed in Cornwall, my bookcase has several books about Irish seaweed, with some wonderful recipes for it. Here in Brittany the harvest of seaweed is an essential part of the local economy.
I have been a little reading about seaweed production here, and was fascinated to learn that the industry really developed during the Napoleonic Wars. Apparently burning seaweed was a way to produce iodine, much needed during a war in those pre-penicillin days, this method of iodine production continued into the middle of the twentieth century. Don’t make the mistake I made, and think that a seaweed oven is an ancient monument, it may have been in use within in the last fifty years!
In our nearby town, Roscoff there are two shops, run by local companies, selling seaweed products. Here you will find seaweed to cook with, delectable seasalt mixed with seaweed to substitute for every day table salt, there are also beauty products for your bath or skin, which can give a year long feeling of emersion in the ocean. Should you wish you can go along to the Centre De Thallosotherepie de Roscoff and have seaweed treatments to really enhance your well-being.
The vegetables grown in local fields are not registered organic, yet they are produced in a thoughtful and environmentally friendly way. Seaweed is the main fertiliser for the crops of potatoes, carrots and artichokes that abound in this region. Each mouthful is delicious, this is simple food that does not require or need much more then traditional cooking.
The new potatoes from the Isle de Batz are best boiled, eaten with freshly caught mackerel and a salad of Breton tomatoes. The Carrots de Sable (from Santac) are perfect when cut into batons and eaten raw, or barely steamed and eaten along side the potatoes and a barbecue of salt marsh lamb. And the artichokes, well they are at their best, straight from the field, boiled and cooled, dipped into a simple vinaigrette, perfect finger food!
I have decided that one of the things I can do to improve the taste of my food at home is to add seaweed. So this summer I am taking home sea salt with added seaweed, as well as packs of dry nori and dulse, both of which may be added, in small quantities, to savoury and sweet foods. Not only will I be improving the taste of many dishes I cook at home, but research suggests that I will be improving the health of both my family and myself! How wonderful,that the seaweed, which in the past I may have collected, pressed and made into a picture, has so much more to offer. It is a source of wonderful nutrients and has the bonus of being delicious.
Do you use seaweed in your cooking? Have you any family recipes from your childhood that you particularly love? Do you think you may add seaweed to your cooking? Please do let us know…
Thanks for reading!