I love colour, the more vibrant the better, and my love for it is not only reflected in my bicycle, but in what I wear, how I decorate my home and even in what I eat.
And when I speak of slow cooked I’m not referring to time in the pan (that only took a minute or two) but the process of starting the recipe from scratch i.e the collecting of these molluscs in the first place.
AND, talking of slowness you may note that there are longer gaps between my stories!
This is not due to laziness but more to distraction. This time I will blame it on the shell middens of which, on mentioning below, I turned my attention to learning about, and in doing so completely lost track of time.
I‘m standing ankle deep in water between two large rocky outcrops, the sun warm on my back.
The surge of the sea is tugging the sand from under my feet as the tide retreats.
Balancing my bucket on a natural shelf I go to work prising the blue/black mussels off the rocks and dropping them into my utensil where they land with a satisfying ‘plop’.
I have only myself to feed today so half a bucket will be enough.
But I’m not the first person who has been here carrying out this task.
Behind me in a sandy low cliff face is a shell midden*.
An ancient rubbish tip of discarded shells. One of many in these parts and proof that people over the centuries have stood where I am standing, foraging for a shell fish feast.
As I pick, I wonder if they also took the time to pause every now and again and look up to admire the blue sky and down to remark on the clarity of the turquoise water (which is now tempting me to put a halt to my picking and wade out for a swim.)
(my favourite collecting and swimming place and a not very good picture of the shell midden.)
The first time I tasted mussels I was about ten years old and we were camping in south Connemara in a place called Ballinahown.
It could have been the first time I tasted snails too but I lost my courage before I even took the first bite.
It was also the first time I fell in love.
Wild camping is a wonderful experience for children, but being gregarious creatures they love to have other children around too
We were lucky. There were eight of us, so we were never short of companionship but, while my dad scowled if people camped to close to us, the presence of others our own age was a bonus and a cause of much excitement.
We had neighbouring campers in Ballinahown.
But they were nothing like we had ever come across before.
For a start they were French! Remarkable in the fact that this was 1966 and any foreign tourists were exotic in our young, never been abroad ourselves eyes.
(It was not that my parents were insular or that they couldn’t afford it. At the time many of their friends were going to France for a camping holiday. It was because my dad felt we should see every inch of our own country before we explored others)
Back to our neighbours.
A couple and their son (in his late teens).
And not only were they foreign but instead of having a tent, they had rented a colourful horse drawn caravan complete with ambling horse.
Making their way slowly up the west coast, they, like my father, had seen the beauty of this place and had stopped for a few days, setting up camp above us on a spot of green grass where they proceeded to unharness the horse and lead her through a small gate into the nearby field.
I was besotted.
Not just with them and their colourful mode of travel, but also with their son.
I followed him around in a puppy like fashion as he and his parents foraged for shell fish along the shore and snails from the small stone walled fields of smooth rocks and bunches of yellow irises.
It was amid these clumps of wild flowers that I hid a few days later, nursing my broken heart, as the rest of my family cheerfully waved them goodbye and the back of the caravan swayed around a bend of the boitrin, the sound of horses hooves growing softer and softer.
I remained in hiding until I could no longer that clip clop sound.
I didn’t grieve for long because for one thing, ‘moping’ was not tolerated in my family and for another, my father was now hell bent in continuing what he had learnt from them and was enthusiastically rallying his children into helping him collect buckets of shellfish.
It was all hands on deck.
They called my name again and again until at last I was forced to appear and, on the state of my tear streaked cheeks being noted, a single query was made.
‘What happened to you?’
‘I fell into a bunch of nettles’
Luckily such a deed was common among the Peppard children and was not a cause of concern.
Afterall we all knew the cure (rub the stings furiously with a bunch of dock leaves) so neither of my parents investigated the real cause of my sadness and my childish one sided love affaire remained a secret.
But to this day whenever I go collecting mussels I remember him.
Could this have been when my love for color, for the exotic started I often wonder.
(And my fashion of falling in love with foreign men).
My exotic mussel recipe
For it you will need
- One outcrop of mussel covered rocks
- a bowl/bucket full of freshly picked mussels from the above.
- Time (plenty of it)
- Thyme (plucked fresh from the ground)
- A bottle of white wine (use some for the cooking)
- One onion
- A few cloves of garlic squished.
- Olive oil.
- A handful of pomegranate seeds (for decoration and zest and a touch of vibrant colour)
- Pick enough mussels for your appetite and number to feed.
- clean the mussels and pull any ‘beards’ off.
- Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil using a large frying pan (I use a wok shaped one) until soft and translucent
- throw the cleaned mussels in
- add a good glass of wine and cover.
- check after a minute or two.
- the mussels will open when cooked (discard any that haven’t opened)
- Add some wild thyme.
- serve in a bowl and decorate with the pomegranate seeds (for colour and jest) and some more thyme.
Goes well with buttered soda bread (not having any this time) I have used soft goats cheese which is possibly too strong a taste for such a delicate dish).
* According to my research the shell middens of this area are supposedly from the bronze up to medieval period.