Sunday, June 26, 2016

Glass Pickles

shade grown
It is not often that two of my obsessions overlap in a serendipitous way. At the end of autumn I was walking with a friend along along estuary where he lives when I realised we were standing at the edge of a marshy area full of samphire.  I have never seen it near home so I harvested a small handful to take home to pickle. This Australian member of the genus salacornia, I believe to be tecticornia halophytea favourite plant of mine. Looking very much like the succulent 'Dead Man's Fingers' it thrives in tidal rivers, estuaries and salty marshland where it acts against erosion. A small shrub, it appears to have no leaves, only succulent stems. In shaded areas, it can double its height when given year round water. New growth is brilliant green,   during summer the older branches become pink or red.

Common names include 'sea asparagus', 'sea bean', 'sea pickle' and 'pousse-pierre' after the patron saint of fishermen. comes the link to another obsession,,,,'glasswort' is another common name for samphire. Prior to the nineteenth century, the ashes of glasswort and saltwort were used as a source of soda ash for glass making. Other varieties are used as a source of biofuel, salt and building materials.High in nitrogen, it can be a good source of fodder. Aboriginal Australians collected the seeds to grind into flour.
washed for pickling
Samphire is a useful foraging plant. As with any native plants, it is best to check local regulations before harvesting. With samphire and marsh species, it is important to check the waterways in which they grow to avoid contamination. The best time to harvest is in spring when they are plump and juicy and the waterways have had a good flush of rain. I harvested mine at the end of summer and some of the stalks are a bit tough. Only take the top of the green shoots so as not to kill the plant.

The taste varies from  seaweed-salty to green-bland when it is grown in freshwater. It can be eaten raw, steamed or preserved. Traditionally it is served with seafood and historically, in spring, English fishmongers would present a bunch with every purchase (which was often binned by the ungrateful customer as 'poor' food).

Nutritionally it is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and iron. It can also be a source of selenium, which it draws from the soil and transpires into the atmosphere. This may need a note of caution not to consume large amounts in areas of samphire from soils rich in selenium.This is not usually a problem in Australia as our soils are selenium poor, except possibly where there is run off from commercial grain producing paddocks.

spice jars are the perfect shape
There are lots of methods to pickle samphire. After washing and removing the tough parts of the stems, either blanch in boiling water, drain and let dry then cover with cider or white wine vinegar, with or without spices. Or simply pack into sterile jars and pour over boiling vinegar and seal.
As a side dish, lightly steam and dress with lemon and butter or olive oil. Use raw is salads, pickled with fish, white meats and mild cheeses.

Samphire plants have recently appeared in nurseries in the coastal plants section. Tough and water wise, they are a worthwhile addition to your garden for so many reasons. I have taken some cuttings.I don't think the homegrown varieties will have that lovely salty taste but if you have high levels of salt in your water source, it could be just the plant for you.

As for collecting glass...that is purely for pleasure!

glass by Gerry Reilly

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