Collecting Samphire, the asparagus of the sea!

In a few days we will be in Norfolk, England visiting my parents in law. Norfolk is a lovely place situated in the East of England.  It has borders with Lincolnshire to the west, Cambridgeshire to the west and southwest and Suffolk to the south. It is a great destination to get an idea of the traditional English countryside with beautiful sandy beaches nicely decorated with lavender flowers and abundant coastal wildlife (lots of species of birds). It is perfect for a relaxing long weekend because it is just 90 minutes away from the London metropolis or for a family summer vacation. There are plenty of activities for kids during the summer with kid friendly pubs, restaurants, farmers markets, seafood markets and probably one of the best fish and chips you can get!

Norfolk Location

Norfolk Location

The last time we were there, it was in the summer of 2012. It was pleasantly warm with clear blue skies. So we decided to skip tea time and collect some Samphire from the sea for dinner. We put on our wellington boots and walked across marshes towards Thornham’s sandy beach which is a mile away but the high tide line is in fact only one hundred meters away from my parents in law’s house. Samphire is a name given to a number of distinct edible plants that grow in some coastal areas; specifically in the mudflats. The original name is Sampiere, a corruption of the French “Saint Pierre” (Saint Peter), samphire was named for the patron saint of fishermen because all of the original plants with its name grow in rocky salt-sprayed regions along the sea coast of northern Europe or in its coastal marsh areas. The samphire we picked is marsh samphire and not rock samphire that grows on cliffs. It looks like a miniature cactus, but without the spines, and has a satisfying crunch when you bite into it. The flesh slides off a woody spine in the same way that a cartoon cat might eat a fish. It is a unique wild plant with tastes of the sea. In Norfolk it is commonly called sampha (Sam-fa). In North Wales, especially along the River Dee’s marshes, it has always been known as sampkin.  The season is very short. It comes around mid-June until late August; after that, the samphire starts to develop inedible woody ‘skeletons’. In Norfolk sam-fa is sold at around 5 pounds a kilo and in London it costs around 10 pounds per kilo; it is always double price their (TimeOut London – 2007 Edition).

The way you cook it is fairly easy. The best method is to steam it like you would steam asparagus but for only 2-3 minutes. Make sure you wash it thoroughly and trim off roots. Don’t add any salt as it is salty already.  Add any of the following: a slick of butter or hollandaise, a squeeze of lemon and cracked black pepper. We just add butter and it is delicious! very healthy, full of iron and perfect to include it in a macrobiotic diet.

Norfolk Sanfra

Norfolk Samphire

Lavender all over the beach

On our way to pick up samphire. The landscape is beautifully decorated with Lavender flowers.

Collecting Sanfra on the Thornham beach

Samphire is picked from the coastal mudflats of the Thornaham beach.

Don't wear expensive clothes as the mud is very slippery!

Don’t wear expensive clothes as the mud is very slippery and very sticky!

The sea looks very close but it a long way to get to the border! It is important to get the tied timetables! otherwise it could be dangerous!

The sea looks very close but it is a long way to get to the breaking waves! It is important to get the tide timetables! Otherwise it could be dangerous as the sea can cut you off!

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Sabrina with a full bag!

Sabrina with a full bag!

Our way back just in time before the rain starts.

Our way back just in time before the rain starts.

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2 responses to “Collecting Samphire, the asparagus of the sea!

  1. What a lovely post! It seems like you all had a lot if fun. :-I We love Samphire, the best match for fish, butter, and summer.
    Greetings from Cley next the Sea,
    Dina

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  2. Thank you so much Dina! I was in Norfolk two weeks ago but I couldn’t collect more samphire any more. Not enough time but I saw farmers selling almost 1 pound for 3 pounds! You are right it is delicious with butter. Best wishes Maria Potts

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