Gail Capstick introduces a Morecambe Bay veg called Samphire in this week’s food column.

“There is a cliff whose high and bending head looks fearfully in the confined deep…. Halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade” King Lear, Shakespeare. I’ve always loved the Edgelands of Morecambe Bay, and I remember the magic of my first cross-bay walk nearly 60 years ago. Last year I walked the Cumbria Coastal Way from Silverdale to Gretna Green and in the previous year I walked the Lancashire Coastal Way.

On both walks there was samphire in the summer. I’ve always liked it. I was introduced to it by someone, who 55 years ago, lived in a caravan at Basil Point at Overton. He had largely turned his back on the commercial world, preferring fishing and gathering foods, although he did venture out to see his mother in Scotforth and to go to a pub to drink!

Samphire is a sea vegetable, sometimes referred to as sea asparagus. It grows in several areas of the Bay in the mudflats, subject to the incoming tide, in conditions where a lot of plants might not survive. It has slightly succulent leaves, similar to slim cacti. The taste is slightly salty.

Samphire in Morecambe Bay is a lot more accessible than that in Shakespeare’s quote. You can gather and eat it yourself or buy it. It’s served in some small restaurants in the region, e.g. the Quarterhouse in Lancaster. In some parts of the UK, it is now grown commercially, e.g., Evesham. But for supermarkets, it is imported from Morocco.

Samphire is seasonal and is best picked between late May and August. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is traditionally served with seafood dishes, especially pan-fried or oven baked salmon. It also goes great with salt marsh lamb, potatoes and bacon and belly pork. But why not try your hand at a risotto, made with arborio rice for that Italian touch? Or make up your own vegetarian or vegan speciality samphire recipe? This versatile vegetable is here to satisfy all palates.

I love it both ways – raw or cooked – but if eating it raw I suggest it is washed.

You can prepare it as follows:
1. Wash the samphire to remove debris.
2. Remove roots and tough stems.
3. Break up any large pieces to ensure even cooking.
4. Steam or blanch for a couple of minutes in boiling water. No need for salt!


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