Foraging for samphire
Years ago we did a great walk from Brockenhurst to Lymington along footpaths and country roads. In fact, it was so good, I remember us doing it 2 weekends in a row, then the weather turned bad and normal life took over and we forgot all about it the following year. For some reason it came to mind this weekend and coincided with 2 eerily rain-free days.
In an attempt to avoid New Forest traffic and the hottest part of the day we got up early on Sunday and made it down to Brockenhurst station by 9am. At our ambling and easily distracted pace, the walk to the coast takes around 4 hours, but there is a very convenient train that goes from Lymington pier back to Brockenhurst every 30 mins on a Sunday, so it only needs to be an 8 hour round trip if you’re truly committed.
When you’re sitting in a Lyndhurst traffic jam, it’s easy to forget how beautiful the New Forest can be. The walk we went on took us through deciduous forest, pretty villages, open farmland and finally to the sea and we barely saw another person on the footpaths. On the narrow lanes there were more cyclists than cars.
Even though it was the middle of August, I’d rather hoped that July’s rain would have given us an early mushroom crop. Sadly it was too hot and dry this weekend (not that I’m really complaining!), so these little beauties were the only ones we came across.
Towards the end of the walk we stumbled upon a lovely little PYO farm on the edge of a golf course – no more than a little shack with a pile of punnets, a set of scales and an honesty box. We picked a big punnet of raspberries and couldn’t resist an insanely fragrant box of strawberries, sitting ready-picked on the counter.
We carried the berries the last 20 minutes or so to the waterfront. It’s by no means the most attractive stretch of water and you’d struggle really to call it a beach, but we love the little bit of coast between East End and Lymington. For one thing, it’s always almost completely deserted, but there’s also a really pleasing calmness to the still marshy water, interupted every so often when the improbably huge Isle of Wight ferry comes out of Lymington.
As we neared the end of our berries, the waterline slowly receeded to reveal the nobbly green tops of marsh samphire. We couldn’t believe our luck! Regular readers will know that samphire is probably my all time favourite (non-animal) thing to eat and as the tide went out more and more of the tender little stems became visible.
Samphire thrives in muddy, marshy sea water which makes picking it slightly unpleasant, but it’s worth persevering. To make sure that you don’t damage the plant, treat it a bit like cut-and-come-again salad, just nipping off the tender green tops and leaving the tougher yellowy-brown stalks. If you harvest it carefully, it also means you won’t have to pick through it again later and you can just munch away string-free.
Samphire with Garlic & Lemon
Serves 2 on its own or 4 as a side dish
1 large punnet of samphire (sorry – forgot to weigh it!)
2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
- Wash the samphire to get rid of any mud or bits of seaweed, then shake it dry in a sieve.
- Squash the garlic flat with a knife, then slice across so it’s sort of half chopped, half crushed.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the garlic until it’s really aromatic, but hasn’t started to colour.
- Throw in the samphire and toss together for a minute or two to distribute the garlic and warm the samphire through.
- Add a good grind of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and serve immediately in warm bowls.
Samphire is really salty, so you never need to add any salt and it’s best to avoid cooking it with other salty things like bacon or anchovy.
Make sure everyone’s ready to eat before you start cooking as it literally only needs a minute or 2 and can easily turn limp and slimy.
My favourite things to serve Samphire with are slow-roasted lamb or barbequed sea bream – indescribably delicious! I’d also like to try the recipe above with big chunks of lobster stirred through or (at the other end of the luxury scale) a soft poached egg on top.
You end up with a lovely lemony, garlicy dressing at the bottom of the bowl, so have some decent bread to hand or try using the dish to dress linguini.