If you’re keen on foraging for food, samphire is one herb that is highly sought-after and you can find samphire growing around the Newquay and Cornwall coast. To find samphire simply keep an eye out for it when you’re out and about, it can be found on and around the cliffs of Newquay and the North Cornwall coast.
One place samphire is definitely growing is at Godrevy Head, which is the lighthouse you can see when you’re looking out to sea from town, over on the far right hand side headland and down the coast a few miles.
Samphire is dedicated to the fisherman saint, St Peter, because it likes to grow on sea-cliffs. Samphire is a succulent, smooth, multi-branched herb that is woody at the base. It grows freely on rocks on the sea-shore moistened by the salt spray. You can find rock samphire and marsh samphire in Cornwall. Marsh samphire is sometimes also known as Glasswort as it used to be burnt as a source of soda for glassmaking.
Samphire plants are annuals. Samphire begins growing in late autumn and vegetates throughout the winter until the first warm weather arrives. Then the first stems and internodes form, and by mid-spring the plant measures 6 to 8 cm.
Don’t eat samphire raw – it’s not dangerous, it just doesn’t taste good. Cooking samphire is quite easy, you just simmer it for 7-8 minutes – no salt required, it should be salty enough. Treat it how you’d treat asparagus or rosemary. It can be added into dishes, or treated as a side dish (with some butter perhaps).
You can eat the stalk parts – just serve them with melted butter and draw the knobbly swollen joint parts between your teeth, discarding the twiggy bits.
You should wash samphire thoroughly under running water before you use it – and don’t add salt to your cooking water as it’s already salty enough. Use samphire fresh in salads or serve it boiled and dipped in melted butter to be eaten like asparagus with fish dishes.
Samphire Pickle Recipe
If you find samphire and gather it in May, remove the young leaves from the stalks, sprinkle with a little salt then boil and cover with vinegar and spice, this makes a good pickle recipe, because of their aromatic taste.
Rock samphire has been eaten since Celtic times. It was very popular as a pickle in the 16th century, until it almost died out from over-picking in the 19th century. Samphire was mentioned in “King Lear”: ‘
Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!’
This referred to the fact that once samphire becomes scarce, the only place it can be found is half way down the cliffs – and samphire gatherers risk their lives to collect it. Even today, Cornish samphire suppliers will risk going a little too close to the edge to reach a clump of samphire that’s just out of reach. The phone rings off the hook during the samphire season as people try to get hold of some.
Richard Carew, in his book Survey of Cornwall (1602), said of Samphire
“Of herbes and rootes for the pot and medicine, Cornishmen enioy a like portion in proportion with other Shires, which somewhere also receiveth an increase by the sowing and planting of such as are brought thither from beyond the seas. The like may bee sayd of rootes, and sallets for the table, saue that (I suppose) Cornewall naturally bringeth forth greater store of Seaholm and Sampire, than is found in any other County of this Realme. The Seaholme roote preserueth eyther in sirrup, or by canding, is accepted for a great restoratiue. Some of the gaully grounds doe also yeeld plenty of Rosa solis. Moreouer natures liberall hand decketh many of the sea cliffes with wilde Hissop, Sage, Pelamountayne, Maiorum, Rosemary, and such like well-fauouring herbes.”
Today, during the month of June, you can expect to pay £4 in supermarket for 100g of samphire in a supermarket. 100 grams of samphire is plenty for 2-3 people as a side dish or starter.
Samphire is fleshy and has a yellow flower. It’s divided into aromatic edible leaves and is sometimes referred to as Sea Asparagus. Samphire is a sought-after ingredient, especially with top chefs and foragers.
Old Samphire Recipe
One old samphire recipe you might (not) want to try out is the following, from a book of 1902 on ancient cuisine:
A Fricasy of Double Tripe:
Cut your tripe in slices, two inches long, and put it into a stew-pan; put to it a quarter of a pound of capers, as much samphire shred, half a pint of strong broth, as much white-wine, a bunch of sweet-herbs, a lemon shred small; stew all these together till ’tis tender; then take it off the fire, and thicken up the liquor with the yolks of three or four eggs, a little parsley boiled green and chopp’d, some grated nutmeg and salt; shake it well together. Serve it on sippets. Garnish with lemon.
Sippets refers to small pieces of bread or toast.
Rock Samphire Latin name: Crithmum maritimum.
Where to Find Samphire in Cornwall
You can find it along most of the coasts. A little clump here, poking out of a rock there – most people don’t know it’s samphire and simply don’t notice it. Places in Cornwall where you can find samphire include the north end of Strangles Beach, near Bude, on the cliffs west of Portreath, Porthbean Beach North of St Mawes, Bassett’s Cove near Portreath, Church Creek at Old Kea, Porthleven.
It’s not just in rocks that you can find samphire. Even if you’re in a town, you can find it growing out of the granite buildings where it’s managed to take root. There’s some samphire at Crab Quay, Falmouth in the wall of the old fortifications.
Foraging & Wild Food Apps
Why not check out the latest foraging apps, some of them are free apps, to see what you might find: Foraging & Wild Food Apps