This week, my local beach has been unusually busy as crofters gather storm-damaged seaweed. Traditionally seaweed has been collected on the western coastal areas of Ireland and Scotland and used as a fertiliser, but in Scotland it also has a rich industrial history.
My interest in seaweed came as a seasoned forager, who moved from the east coast of Scotland to South Uist in The Western Isles, where my husband is the island doctor. I am however not alone, there has been a recent revival of interest in seaweed for use in the biofuel industry as well as cooking. My timing is perfect. Many folk are sadly unable to forage seaweed themselves, due to their proximity to the coast but this problem is easily overcome by the purchase of dried seaweed from one of an ever increasing number of producers http://www.seaweedproducts.co.uk/
On South Uist my opportunities to forage hedgerows and woods may be limited but seaweed is plentiful. My seaweed journey follows in the footsteps of the monks of Iona. One of the earliest documentations of seaweed is in a poem, attributed to St Columba (about A.D. 563) who founded the monastery on Iona, which was to become the heart of the early Scottish church. The monks collected the ruby red seaweed, dulse from rocks and cooked it with oatmeal in a broth.
A recipe in the soon to be published The Forager's Kitchen combines dulse and oatmeal but rather ironically, I developed this idea from one of my 2001 BBC Masterchef competition creations http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/arbroathsmokiechowde_4760.
At that time I had no knowledge of St Columba's recipe. Foragers may embark on culinary expeditions but recipes are rarely new.
This recipe for Sea Lettuce Oatcakes is an adaptation of a wild oatcake recipe from The Forager's Kitchen
Sea Lettuce Oatcakes
Makes 15 small oatcakes
What to forage and find:
125g medium oatmeal and extra for sprinkling
Pinch bicarbonate soda
Tbsp fresh sea lettuce,well washed and very finely chopped
Approx 75ml boiling water
Oven 180°C Gas4
What to do:
1. Melted the lard and butter in small pan over a low heat.
2. Put the oatmeal, bicarbonate soda, salt and sea lettuce in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and lard and enough water to make a moist dough.
3. Turn the dough on to a work surface liberally sprinkled with oatmeal and roll the dough out as thinly as possible.
4. Cut in rounds with a cookie cutter and either cook on a lightly oiled griddle until the edges curl up or bake in an oven for 20 minutes, turning the oatcakes over after 15 minutes of baking.
The red seaweed dulse will work equally well but it changes colour from ruby red to green when cooked. Sea lettuce retains its emerald green vibrancy.