Foraging for magical ingredients
Cornwall boasts a bounty of secluded beaches and secret coves tucked away from the crowds. The winter is the perfect time of year to explore the rich network of coastal paths around the county and often enjoy a whole beach all to yourself. One of my favourite local spots is the dramatic Lantic Bay that sits between Polruan and Looe on the south coast. Lantic is only accessible down a steep footpath and the hike back up requires a few breaks to rest – the views are great though, so I’ll take any excuse for a pause. The major benefits for me when you’re walking off the beaten track are the unique views of lesser-seen sections of coastline and pronounced peace and quiet. In all likelihood there’s very little chance you will see many people if you venture to one of Cornwall’s hidden gems out of season. You can almost guarantee some undisturbed time to think, plan the year ahead and enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery. Much like the crumbly texture of aged Davidstow cheddar, the cliffs are naturally rugged and full of character. They drop sharply into the sea, providing shelter from the wind and a lovely spot for some coastal foraging.
This month we wanted to celebrate wild Cornwall and get out there to do a spot of foraging. There are many plants that grow along the seashore that can be easily identified and make a great partner as an ingredient in a recipe containing Davidstow Cheddar. The most recognisable are gorse flowers that brighten up even a dark winter-day; the bright yellow flowers smell like coconut and can be used to add floral notes to a salad or garnish roasted vegetables. Other plants that are easy to forage include: Rock Samphire, Sea Beet and Pennywort.
Rock samphire – grows on rocks and is related to marsh samphire that you can buy in the supermarket. It’s easy to find on a coast path – avoid climbing the cliffs though as it does grow in precarious positions! You cook this like asparagus and it can be steamed or sautéed in a little butter or oil. The taste is slightly bitter and it works very well with a rich cheese sauce and some garlic.
Sea beet – I always treat this like spinach. It’s incredibly rich in vitamin C and has dark green, waxy oval-shaped leaves. It grows in sheltered spots and has a pleasant sweet, metallic-tang. Serve in a grilled cheese sandwich or wilted in butter alongside a cheesy pasta bake.
Pennywort – these umbrella shaped leaves are succulent and juicy. They are great eaten raw and are mild and sweet tasting. Try adding to a cheese board instead of celery.
When I go foraging, I always like to try to take away some rubbish as a thank you for the free food. Next time you visit a Cornish beach please take away your rubbish with you or even better conduct a short litter-pick of your own and remove any rubbish you find to recycle at home, so that it doesn’t end up blowing into the sea or being eaten by sea birds.
CELERIAC GRATIN WITH SEA SALAD
This recipe is a rustic warming dish that has a sea mineral tang from the samphire and steamed greens. The 12 month Classic Davidstow Cheddar provides a creamy, rich topping to the nutty celeriac and it’s easy to make.
1 Celeriac, peeled and grated
100g 12 month Davidstow cheese, grated
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cracked black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
50g panko breadcrumbs
For the sea salad:
100g marsh samphire
100g green beans
Foraged sea vegetables [optional]
1 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
CELERIAC GRATIN WITH SEA SALAD
- Preheat your oven to 180˚C. Melt your butter and sauté your grated celeriac for 2-3 mins.
- Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and then add in your milk.
- Transfer to a small roasting tray and press your celeriac into a tin with the butter and milk. Cover with breadcrumbs and grated cheese.
- Roast for 20-25 mins until the cheese gratin topping is golden and the celeriac underneath is soft.
- Toss your steamed greens in a pan with olive oil and season to taste. Try adding your own foraged sea vegetables to the side if you are a confident forager.
James Strawbridge is the author of The Artisan Kitchen and Davidstow Cheddar’s Cornish development chef.
The Cornish coast offers many edible treasures if you know what you’re looking for. Foraging for your dinner clearly makes it taste better!