An unlikely forage

February is not exactly a prime month for foraging so when someone asked me last week to take himself (Tim) and Em  on a foraging trip to celebrate her birthday I enquired if he was absolutely sure. Well he was, so I did my best to find as much as I could for them. I seldom get out and about this time of year so I rather looked forward to the challenge.

If foraging is a silly thing to do in winter, putting out crab pots from the shore is quite mad - most crabs and lobsters are sensibly in deeper water and do not venture near to shore until April/May, and the sea temperature is a touch chilly for someone of my advanced age, even on the Dorset coast. But I thought it worth a go anyway just to see if I would catch anything at all. Well I can tell you now that I caught absolutely nothing but not because there nothing there. More of this sorry tale in a moment.

Despite the pot debacle it was a terrific day with lots of edible wild plants and seaweeds around. The mild, wet weather has certainly helped and we went to some of my favourite spots where I know things grow. We found: Sea Purslane, Sea Beet, Alexanders, Hairy Bittercress, Common Mallow, Wild Thyme, Perennial Samphire, Rock Samphire, Black Mustard (a particular hit with my guests once they got over the shock), Wild Fennel, Perennial Wall Rocket, Wormwood (poisonous but was used in absinthe and incredibly aromatic), Wild Onion, Hogweed and two species of the tasty seaweed called Laver. Most of these were available in considerable quantity and in very good condition.

At the end of a sunny and mostly (see below) successful day's foraging we sat down to a beach picnic of steamed Sea Beet, Sea Purslane and Wild Onions. I brought along some laverbread cakes made that morning and some of my famous seaweed panna cotta made from Carragheen foraged the day before. A great meal though I say so myself.

Back to those pots. I have put out pots for years and years from the seashore with no mishap apart from once when I dropped one in the murky water and couldn't find it again. (I went back twice to find it, once in a canoe, but with no luck. A couple of weeks later I put some more pots out at the same spot and one of my guests literally tripped over the lost pot which, glory of glories, contained a good sized lobster!). I am careful about hiding my pots, using leaded rope that sinks out of sight and making sure there is no-one around who might nip in to pinch them as soon as I leave - not always easy as people view potting as something of a spectator sport. We arrived at where I had placed the pots the day before and found the cut rope and the bait bags lying well above the water-line. Some complete b****** had stolen my pots! Apart from the simple misfortune of having someone in the vicinity who can look forward to a very special place in Hell one day, my main problem was the tide. I usually plan my potting expeditions well in advance to take advantage of spring tides (when the tidal range is at its greatest - about every two weeks - and I choose the best of these). Saturday was a neap tide (very small tidal range - about half a metre) and the pots were barely covered with water and stayed that way for the whole 25 hours I was away. With a spring tide they soon disappear under a couple of metres of water, only reappearing at low tide in the middle of the night when even reprobates like the b****** who stole my pots are in bed, and again when I return at the nest low tide after that. It is the last time I put pots out on a neap. Incidentally the professional crab fisherman only fish during neaps,  though I am not sure why.

Now I plan to use steel cable instead of polypropylene rope to tether my pots together and also to use some to attach the chain of pots to a difficult-to-steal rock anchor. There are a few technical problems to sort out. Does anyone know where I could get hold of a strong stainless steel padlock?!




John Wright: 1st Mar 2011 10:00:00

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