Coastal Foraging on the Isles of Scilly

Foraging has long been a big love of mine ever since picking blackberries from the country lanes around my grandma’s house when I was little and seeing them cooked up into a crumble with apples from her garden. It’s magical to me that it’s possible to find such delicious wild ingredients sometimes right on my doorstep, and each year I discover more and more to gather. I’ve shared a good number of them in my foraging posts, and during my visit to the Isles of Scilly I was lucky enough to have one of my all-time foraging dreams come true: cooking fresh, local fish over a fire on the beach with coastal foraged ingredients that you can’t get further inland.

It was surprising to me that locally caught fish is actually not that easy to find on the Isles of Scilly for cooking at home. Pretty much everything is sold directly to restaurants and the only place you can really buy ingredients for cooking is the Co-op supermarket on St Mary’s. Thankfully, we managed to source a 40cm-long pollack from a friend whose son had caught it on a weekend fishing trip. That was one obstacle overcome, the next was finding firewood to cook it with which we managed to get from another friend. It was amazing to me to see the local community come together to help each other out, something I think must be really important in such a remote place especially during the off-season when boats and flights can be disrupted by weather.

With the fish and firewood sorted, the rest was easy. With a bit of research and some local knowledge, we set out to do our foraging and see how the local environment could enhance our dinner!

Rock Samphire

This might just be the easiest thing to find along the coastlines of the Scilly Isles. We pretty much found it on every beach we visited. It’s slightly different in shape and flavour to the samphire you can sometimes buy from the fish counter and has a lovely lemony-salty zap to it. It’s fun to nibble when you’re on the beach and enjoy it’s crunch and citrusy flavour.

Wild Fennel

Distinguishable by it’s fine fronds, yellow flower umbels and unmistakable scent, wild fennel grows really well along beaches and dunes. The flowers are edible as well as the leaves which is nice for variation. We gathered plenty of fennel to accompany the rock samphire in flavouring our fish. We wrapped the cleaned, gutted and scaled pollack in foil with the rock samphire, wild fennel, local salt from St Martins and plenty of butter, ready to take to the beach!

Gutweed

What a name right? Sounds yummy…ahem… This bright green, vibrant seaweed is super easy to spot draped over rock pools at low tide. It’s probably not that flavoursome raw and would be quite tough and chewy, but fried in a bit of oil and sprinkled with salt it makes a great crispy seaweed. We got some to have as a crunchy element to accompany our fish. It’s best to give it plenty of time to dry out either in a sunny place or in a very low oven, otherwise it will spit a lot when it touches hot oil.

Pennywort

This plump little round-leafed plant loves shaded cracks and crevices in walls and rocks. We gathered some to have in a salad with some green beans and a nice hazelnut dressing as I felt the pennywort complemented the beans in flavour and texture.

Gorse Flowers

Probably more effort than they’re worth if I’m being honest, these little yellow flowers offered a pretty pop of colour to the salad, but were a pain to gather navigating the lethal gorse spikes.

Sea Spinach

We saw a bit of sea spinach, otherwise known as sea beets, around the beaches and whilst we nibbled on a bit during our walks we actually didn’t pick much to use with our dinner as it didn’t feel like we found quite enough, but I thought I’d include in this list anyway. It’s a typical green leaf in terms of flavour and isn’t particularly distinctive, but good for a salad nonetheless.

Beach fire

After preparing our fish and salads at home, we took our food and firewood to the beach, found a sheltered spot and got to work with our campfire. Once it was going strong we nestled the fish in its foil amongst the flames and left it to cook and steam in those buttery, herby juices until we were sure it was done. We ate the fish with the crispy gutweed and pennywort salad and it was really delicious!

To say this was a dream come true feels like such an understatement. Being able to cook with these ingredients over a fire right in the beach with the smell of the wood smoke and the sound of the lapping waves is a feeling that defies description. I am so grateful to the families that provided the fish and the firewood, and to my friend for making it possible even though she’s usually not that fussed about eating fish!

This blog is not intended as a foraging or identification guide. Always use a trusted guide when foraging and comply with local laws.

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