For me one of the most exciting aspects of heading down to the beach is gathering wild foods. Why? Firstly hunting out “Wildfoods” can be incidental to tramping. It makes sense to gather edible things that you come across. In many cases the food will be very healthy and organic, and you have the benefit of knowing where it come from. Other benefits include that the food is often more intense in taste than commercially available options and in some cases, especially pauas there aren’t many (if any!) commercially available options.
I love shoreline foraging with its wide diversity shellfish available. Interestingly during the Irish potato famine many people starved on the doorstep of rich shoreline food resources, a great tragedy, due in part upon reliance primarily on potatoes and an ignorance of shoreline foods. Shellfish are readily available and are best taken after periods of low rainfall, or a hundred metres or so away from any significant freshwater source (if it is running off agricultural land).
Green shell mussels are a mainstay and grow to a good size. I like to snorkel for mussels, as often the mussels below the low tide mark are of larger size and better condition, than those in the inter- tidal. Blue mussels are smaller than green lips and grow higher up on the tide line and are as good, if slightly different in taste, as the better-known green shell mussel.
Rock oysters, which proliferate round much of our coastline, are often overlooked. Several large rock oysters are equal to a Bluff oyster and in my opinion their taste is more intense. The rock oyster tends to be a more southern species with the Pacific oyster growing from the northern South Island and throughout the North Island, often on sheltered parts of the coast around mudflats or sheltered waterways (such as the Marlborough Sounds).
On more exposed parts of the rocky coastlines pauas are the top prize or the shoreline forager. On remoter parts of our coastline legal sized pauas can be gathered at low tide, but often snorkelling gear is required to get legal sized pauas in many areas these days.
Magic of wharves
I love chilling out and fishing from wharves. The key to success here is to use small hooks. Large spotties and yellow-eyed mullet make great eating when fresh. I love eating whole fish, off the bone, after crisping them up and serving with a tomato and chilli pesto. Jack mackerel can be caught around many wharves in the northern parts of New Zealand and are delicious when hot-smoked.
Potting for paddlecrabs or “piecrust crabs” is a fun activity. A simple hoop pot baited with an oily fish such as a mackerel works very well. Wharves make good spots for potting for piecrust crabs (which have beautiful meat in their claws). If you have a kayak then placing pots in further from shore, over open sand, will allow you to catch paddle crabs. The other exciting part of hoop potting is the by-catch- anything from brittle stars to seahorses will turn up to fascinate the kids.
On the rocky shoreline don’t overlook the wide range of edible seaweeds that occur there. Seaweeds are incredibly healthy with high levels of trace elements. Bladder kelp is one of my favourites. The blades of the kelp, when dried slowly in the oven, turn from a brown to green colour. Once crispened by baking in olive oil, and with a little cracked pepper, they make delicious “seaweed flavoured potato chip”. Neptune’s necklace when likely blanched and added to a salad makes a point of interest.
Karengo, dark bladed kelp growing high up on the inter-tidal, is often in its prime in late winter. When fried with a mix of olive oil and butter, along with some cracked pepper it is delicious. Karengo has grown significantly in popularity in recent years as a point of interest by many chefs, and is commercially harvested in areas such as Kaikoura. Undaria, the seaweed accidentally introduced from Japan, is also a prime food source when dried out. As people look to more healthy forms of food, interest in gathering seaweeds is growing.
The shoreline area is not only a rich source of shellfish and seaweeds but many types of herbs grow wild along the shore. Wild fennel is often very prolific in dry stony areas. The fennel makes a great herb for favouring seafood dishes, and can also be brewed to make a refreshing tea. The seedpods, from fennel, when ground down also make an intense flavouring. Italian parsley often grows prolifically along shoreline areas in the rank shrub just above the high tide mark. Winter is a good time to gather Italian parsley and having go at making homemade pesto with it.
There is nothing to me more comforting than cooking freshly gathered wild foods and cooking them up over a beach fire. If local regulations prohibit the use of an open fire, then a gas cooker is a passable substitute. There is nothing like dining alfresco, even in winter, and looking out over a beautiful coastal view. Brewing up a strong espresso is often a good way to “sign-off” from a days’ shoreline foraging.
So next time you head down to the beach take a bucket or two, a chilly bin, a gas cooker, a sharp knife, a hammer and chisel (for the Pacific and rock oysters), some snorkelling gear, a couple of fishing rods and have dinner. At the end of the day there is nothing like some fresh sea air to clear away the cobwebs of city living. By bringing some food back to the table you can also re-live the days events. Happy foraging.