Okay so its that time of year again when we become aware of Summer’s mortality – August Bank Holiday weekend is upon us, and before you know it there will be aisles of orange and black Halloween tat in Tesco, so what does everyone do on this last oasis of a Bank Holiday before the vast expanse of holiday-desert between August and Christmas? We head for coastal sites in our thousands, hoping for one more weekend of sun.
The bees may be starting to fade, but nature still has a few tricks up her sleeve (watch this space for sloe gin, blackberry liqueur and more) – and Best In Show in the August larder is this glowing green wonder – Marsh Samphire.
Looking like fat little alien-fingers, its no wonder that Samphire (pronounced ‘Sam-Fur) has the nickname Asparagus-of-the-Sea, and it can indeed be used as its vegetable namesake as a hot, buttery ‘green’ served traditionally with fish.
But in a sense, that seems a bit of a waste to me, and I much prefer to pickle it, so that it serves as a lasting autumnal reminder of the summer spent paddling about in estuaries near Conwy or fishing on Cley Beach.
I’ve made this pickle before using Star Anise, as the traditional pickle would contain fennel seeds (Fennel also grows in coastal habitats and so is considered a natural companion to Marsh Samphire), however the wild fennel seeds are not ready yet, and I have no fennel at home (I am ordinarily an aniseed/liquorice hater but make an exception for this pickle!). However I’ve seen a few recipes using cinnamon, cloves, bay, black peppercorns and ginger instead, so thought I would try the christmas version!
It is relatively straightforward to prepare – you trim your samphire to ensure any woody or yellow parts are removed, leaving you with plump little fingers of bright green. Wash this thoroughly in a colander, and then blanch for 1-2 minutes (immerse in boiling water), before immediately running it under cool water to stop it cooking, then spread it out on a clean tea towel to dry.
Now take a few cloves, a few black peppercorns, a bay leaf or two, and half a stick of cinnamon, and crack these in a mortar & pestle and add them to some vinegar.
Many recipes call for white wine vinegar, but as this is a Christmassy version, I have gone for organic apple cider vinegar. Heat the cracked spices in the vinegar until hot (but not boiling) and keep on the heat for 5 minutes or so.
While this is on the heat, stuff your cooled, dried samphire into jars that you have sterilised. (Easiest way to sterilise jars is to wash in hot soapy water, rinse well, then put into a cold oven. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting (90-100 degrees c) and by the time it is up to temperature, your jars are sterilised and you can turn the oven off and allow your jars to cool.)
Once the jars are full, pour over the warm spiced vinegar all the way up to the top (use a seive when you do this so that you don’t end up with peppercorns, etc in your jars). You can then seal the jars and leave them for at least 3 weeks before serving.
So if, like many people, you are going to be at the seaside for the Bank Holiday weekend, keep your eyes peeled for this absolute gem of a wild food!