On this Harvest Moon

Whitehills beach at low tide.
Harvesting seaweed at Whitehills.

Today is the Harvest Full Moon. What has come to fruition for you that was perhaps planted in the spring?  For me, I began preparations to relocate to Scotland and now, here I am.

In a very physical sense, my harvest is seaweed, something I have begun to learn about, forage and cook.  It’s everywhere, tasty, nutritious and free. But one can’t glean for seaweeds and not take in the other bounty of the sea: the acceptance of constant change, awesome beauty, power and peace.

To eat what grows where you are has many benefits, but perhaps the most profound is the bonding power of this activity.  Just as I used to cook with the nettle and blackberries that grew in the wasteland behind my house in York, here I have started to eat weeds from the sea.

Unlike berries and other wild plants, almost all UK seaweed, when harvested in non-polluted waters, is harmless to humans and many are highly nutritious. Initially I was using the Sea Vegetables Cookbook by Evelyn McConnaughey. Though I’ve now found other more current books that are actually by UK foragers, I started with this Oregon-based cookbook from the 80s with its old school fusion of 1950s comfort food, hippie health eats and mermaid chow. Most of all, the author shared my awed passion and glee at finding these strange plants could be eaten in delicious ways.

I have done most of my foraging at Whitehills– a sheltered beach in the wild Banffshire coastline. Perched on a hill above the beach is an ancient red well– its water has a high iron content and was once revered for its healing properties.  The stretch of beach is named Muggie Machlin, after after a suicide: a young pregnant girl who died of exposure “a long time ago” by sitting on a rock on the beach one night in the middle of winter.  This beach has captured my imagination and deserves a post of its own.

Washed weeds, ready to be fried/dried.

On to cooking– so far I have made pasta with alaria and tomato sauce, gutweed stir fry, vegan dashi from scratch and an all-purpose seasoning sprinkle that ads umami and colour to just about anything savoury.  Mike jokingly said that it added natural MSG– but that isn’t far from the truth.  Seaweeds contain natural glutamines– chemicals that tell your brain the thing you are eating is delicious. One dish I tried with laver (basically the same seaweed as nori) was laverbread, which isn’t bread at all but a kind of black gloop or sauce.  To make laverbread, you have to boil the seaweed for 10 hours to “bring out the flavour.”  I tried to stay true to the “recipe” but it was, as anything boiled for 10 hours is bound to be, inedible.

I began to struggle with McConnaughey’s book–  basically the line drawings could only take me so far, endearing as they were, and we were looking at a totally different part of the world, with a different ecosystem. I then found Galloway Wild Foods, a great website full of information for the Scottish forager.

My journey of discovery with seaweed continues as I check the tide tables and wander the beaches, I start to understand my new home with the rhythms and flavours all its own.