Weed on the January Seas
Posted by the Cake Shop
This week we want to give a bit of appreciation to an ingredient that we use a lot in our lunch menu, but which you might not necessarily notice at first. We’re talking about seaweed – we put it in our salads, it goes in our soup broths, and we’ve even been baking with it.
In the 2021 edition of the Almanac and Seasonal Guide, author Lia Leendertz makes the sea a central device; each month of the year is assigned a sea shanty and a migration map. This struck a deep chord for a girl whose family has been tied to the sea for generations. January opens with a migration map of humpback whales, the intrepid adventurers of the seas, who journey back and forth between high latitude areas of the world. Sea shanties connect us to our shared and inherited past; they’re working songs, born of harsh and dangerous labor, which not only safeguard histories but also have specific applications to certain tasks – hauling, heavy lifting, raising the anchor, unloading cargo and so on.
Maybe this is part of why I love listening to the shipping forecast during the winter months. When I get up at 5 a.m. it feels like a mystical incantation, spoken into a void of squid ink darkness: Shannon – North or North East 5-7, rain or showers, moderate or good, Doga – Cyclonic 4-6, wintry showers, good…
A year or two ago, I went to Galway for the Irish food symposium, Food on the Edge. Good oysters, incredible music, tough climate. On the second day they took us out in a boat to a small island where they harvest some of the best seaweed in the world. As we sailed over the deep, cold, black sea – clear black, like a dark mirror – I thought, the flavour of the seaweed here is fascinating. It’s like a fresh, briny oyster – that’s how good Irish seaweed is.
It’s an ancient foodstuff, pre-agricultural and suggestive of a certain wildness. In Ireland it’s still sometimes associated with poverty, since it was a staple during the famine. But it’s also a rich part of the local lore. Eating or bathing in seaweed was thought to help women who were suffering from homesickness – and while there’s definitely some straightforward self-care sense to this, considering that seaweed is full of vitamins and nutrients, it also brings to mind stories of selkies, stranded and pining for the sea.
My nan came from Northern Ireland – I don’t know if it had anything to do with homesickness, but she would pine for fresh dulse on bread and butter. The sea where I grew up in Victoria Bass Strait is home to wondrous kelp beds in turbulent seas. In the cold winter months my nan would make a sea moss concoction that was dark, viscous and piney to soothe the throat, warm the body, decongest the sinuses and promote a sense of wellbeing.
I loved her recipe, but now much prefer the Caribbean version, which you can find being made in small independent cafes all over London. Sometimes the drink is made with pure sea moss; sometimes it’s mixed with sorrel, cinnamon leaf and ginger. I’m very fond of the version they make at Zionly Manna Rastarant, but my favourite mix at the moment comes from my local dressmaker and broadcaster Akua Ofosuhene. She blends a couple of types of African pepper, ginger, sea moss, bladderwrack, lime, calamus, honey and sorrel into a thick, heavy brew, which she calls her anti-Covid tea. It’s so good that I choose to believe her…
Terry’s interpretation as follows:
3 tablespoons dried sorrel
3 pods Guinea pepper – you can use black pepper and a little cardamon
5cm chuck of fresh ginger – grated for fiery effect
Few strands bladderwrack
Cinnamon leaves or a stick of cinnamon
1 bird’s eye chilli
2–3 teaspoons sea moss gel (follow packet instructions)
1 strip of orange peel
A squeeze of lime juice on serving
A sweetener of your choice and to taste (star anise works really well, as do fennel seeds)
Simmer in 800ml of water for a good ten minutes. I like to let it sit and brew, then give it some heat and ahhhhhhhhhhhh: a fiery, sweet, aromatic brew; you can feel it working.
We’re sad not to see you in person while lockdown keeps our doors (and hatch) closed, but hope you’ll keep in touch with us in the meantime. Check out Terry’s seaweed playlist, and let us know how you get on with the recipes – we can’t wait to see you again.