Getting a taste for foraged samphire on the Suffolk coast

Samphire and sea purslane growing on Havergate island. Picture: ARCHANT

Samphire and sea purslane growing on Havergate island. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

There are many special things about East Anglia, several of which I was able to savour during a recent trip to Suffolk's only island, writes Sheena Grant.

Havergate, in the River Ore, has been an RSPB reserve since just after the Second World War and is famous for its breeding terns and avocets, as well as its population of brown hares (and, on the weekend I visited, a county record-equalling 29 spoonbills.

It's just a short boat ride from Orford quay (the RSPB runs regular trips) but once on the island you feel a million miles from anywhere.

There are the same big skies and views East Anglia is renowned for but there's also a remoteness and tranquillity that is unique to Havergate.

Life beats to a different, timeless rhythm here.

While the Bank Holiday hordes a short hop across the water jostled, shopped and spent out we had an island to ourselves with no-where to go and nothing to waste our money on.

If you're at all interested in birds it's obviously the place to be but Havergate is also rich in plant life, including sea aster and lavender, camomile and bladder campion.

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There are edible plants too, sea purslane and most notably one that is synonymous with the East Anglian coast.

Samphire grows in the salt marshes and tidal mud flats of Norfolk and Suffolk, its fleshy bright green stems rising from the shallows like the shoots of a miniature cacti that has wandered far from its desert home.

Like asparagus, which it also resembles, samphire has a definite, short season.

You can buy it from roadside stalls in north Norfolk and some supermarkets sell it too. But really, the best way to experience the salty crunch of fresh samphire is to forage it yourself.

June to August are the best months to harvest by pinching out the top shoots or cutting with a pair of small scissors, which is what I did on the banks of the Ore.

Back home later that day we enjoyed the samphire steamed with home-cooked fish and chips.

It may be the end of samphire season now but there is much else to forage in September.

Over the next few weeks I'll be seeing what else I can find on the coast and in the woods and hedgerows.

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