Sunday, June 22, 2008

No.27: Samphire

Tasting far from being a poor man's asparagus, samphire's just the side dish for seafood!

1.Though there are two types of samphire - marsh and rock - only marsh samphire is widely available. Samphire is at is best in July and August. Buy samphire as you need it - it doesn't keep for long. If you must, tightly wrap and refrigerate for not longer
than a few days.

2. In England it is one of several plants known as samphire, the term samphire is believed to be a corruption of the French name, herbe de Saint-Pierre, which means "St. Pierre's Herb." In the United States the edible species are known as sea beans.

3. Marsh samphire has vibrant green stalks, similar to baby asparagus, with a distinctively crisp and salty taste. Rock samphire has fleshy, divided aromatic leaves that have been described as having a "pleasant,hot and spicy taste".

4. Marsh samphire ashes were used to make soap and glass (hence its other old English name, "glasswort.") In the 14th century glassmakers located their workshops near regions where this plant grew, since it was so closely linked to their trade.

5. It is even mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear: "Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" This refers to the dangers involved in collecting Rock samphire on sea cliffs.

According to Alison Gathercole of Dorset: "In Dorset it grows high up on cliffs, & therefore one presumes it does not require marshy conditions as suggested. I was told about the Shakespeare quote by a former ranger at Lulworth, who said that 'horrible trade' was a reference to the fact that children were dangled over cliffs tied by ropes on their feet .... which does sound a rather horrible task ... in order to pick the plant."

Reference: Wikipedia: Samphire , Wikipedia: Salicornia, Wikipedia:Rock Samphire, BBC Good Food, Cafe Fernando, Istanbul, Gardener's Question Time

1 comment:

Karl said...

I'll try this if I can find it anywhere. I've never seen "sea beans" anywhere in the U.S., and have never seen them on a menu.