I grew up by the sea, though by a much colder north-east English coast: this Gulf Stream-warmed western shore is positively tropical by comparison. My mother’s generation and mine grew up swimming in that icy North Sea, and combing the dunes for sea-treasure. The smells, textures and tastes of the sea and shore have always played a huge part in my imagination – and, here, in our lives. This early morning I opened the back door to a warm, muggy day; a slight sea-mist combined with a long slow Atlantic swell gave a seaweed scent to the air. On the headland the ever-vigilant oystercatcher patrol chased off a pair of incomers – Arctic terns, one of the most exquisite birds in flight – exquisite, that is, until they open their beaks!
The sea comes to the croft in other ways as well as in the air - not least, in the form of seaweed. We’ve carried home buckets of seaweed that has been washed up on the beach and have used it to fertilise the raised beds and the polytunnel. We spread it in the beds, and soak it in buckets of water to provide a liquid feed.
I also love to cook with seaweed; it adds an unusual marine flavour to all kinds of dishes and is full of vitamins and minerals. It almost always goes in some form into soups and stews, for example. I also love to put it into a cheese quiche, to make salmon and seaweed fishcakes, and to make a seaweed colcannon (mashed potato) dish. Often I import dried seaweed by the bag direct from the very fine SeaVeg company, in Ireland (they also have a Scottish base.) But in season we also like to harvest some of our own. (NB: if ever you pick seaweed for this or any other purpose, it’s really important to do it sustainably. Don’t cut off a whole growing clump. Harvest individual fronds; leave plenty behind on that particular plant to regenerate. If you’re gathering seaweed as fertiliser, use the stuff that’s been washed up on the shore i.e. that isn’t attached to rocks and therefore still growing.) Yesterday, David found a place where there’s plenty of dulse. Dulse is what I most like to cook with; it’s also the seaweed that was most used historically in the Highlands and islands. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a lovely deep red colour. Unlike kelp and bladderwrack, it’s not rubbery, and it’s not overloaded with iodine either. The other seaweed I like to cook with is nori, or laver, as it’s known in Wales. Very soft, well flavoured.
Seaweed also has apparently been combined with cellulose from wood pulp to make Seacell, a fibre that you can spin and then knit with. Once I become more competent with the wheel, that’ll be a treat in store! A scarf of seaweed, to wander the shores in, selkie-like.