Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rock Samphire

A few days ago, Mr. Johnson, a British guest who can cook Paella better than many Valencian chefs, showed to me a plant that had collected on the coast. He knew it well.

On the cliffs by the sea, in places where the waves often splashing rocks during bad weather periods, it grows the Crithmum commonly known as Rock Samphire or Sea Fennel

The plant developes with a minimal need for land, between the cracks of rocks and their growth depends on ground conditions or moisture.  

It is well known in England and in the 17th century, Shakespeare referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs. "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!". In the 19th century, samphire was being shipped in casks of seawater from the Isle of Wight to markets in London at the end of May each year. Rock samphire used to be cried in London streets as "Crest Marine"

This pickle is very popular in Mallorca, for centuries, as a companion to traditional dishes (pa amb oli, trempo, soups ...) previously prepared in vinegar. Its collection was banned for a few years, but it is so abundant that now, its collection is currently allowed for family or personal use. 

The ideal season for its collection is in May, before it starts  flowering.

John Curtis British Entomology (1824-1840) Folio 174 Coreus scapha synonym of Enoplops scapha (the Sea-side Coreus).The plant is Crithmum maritimum (Rock Samphire)

Rock samphire has fleshy, divided aromatic leaves that Nicholas Culpeper described as having a "pleasant, hot and spicy taste". Althought it is not as popular as it is in Mallorca, here in Menorca it is lately getting fashionable to do so. 

There is no a universal formula forits preparation. The basic thing is to put the fennel in glass jars, after washing and cover completely with goos quality vinegar. But there are who claim that it has to be washed in seawater and brackish will make it more resistant to the passage of time and will give more firmness to the products. There are also some superstitions that say you have to add chickpeas in each boat, always in odd number (3, 5 or 7) so they do not corrupt and keep in perfect conditions.

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