The very first time I harvested my own seaweed snack was in 2008 while doing research for a column and book I wrote with fellow foraging enthusiast, Fiona Houston (co-founder of Mara). We met Scottish restauranteur and seaweed expert, Margaret Horn, on her local beach, where she regularly snacks on dulse and looked twenty years younger as a result.
The frilly edged seaweed fronds, which Margaret plucked from the shallows, looked good enough to eat. And we did. Delicate and translucent as gelatine leaves and the colour, somewhere between burnished mahogany and aubergine purple, its texture was that of smooth resin or high quality leather, not gloopy or slimy. It was clean and odourless, tasting a bit chewier than Parma ham, imparting a delicious intriguing, earthy flavour which deepened as you continued to masticate. I was instantly hooked.
Later, Margaret rolled fronds of dusky pink dulse around a poker, and toasted it in the fire, until the weed squealed. She finished it off with a sprinkle of brine, because you almost can’t have enough salt. The end result was a snack with crisp and crunch, infused with a level of smokiness that wasn’t a million miles away from the taste of bacon. Dulse was the original bar snack, served up 100 years ago in taverns to stave off hunger and keep the ale flowing. Being an anti-oxidant and powerhouse of minerals, food doesn’t get cleverer than this; it can replenish the parts that need reviving. Margaret remembered the bad times when fishing boats came back empty; there was always the seaweed to fall back on. Her gran used to make a sustaining broth with potatoes, onions and dulse to nourish her family.