Some things taste much better than they look. Limpets and winkles are strongly in that category.
But if you like shell food and want to help make foraging for food more normal for the kids then your next family trip to the seaside could hold the key.
Here is a great way we found to collect, cook and eat some shell food with the by-product of a fairy house thrown in for free.
First, find the food
Find some rockpools.
Unless your pretty unlucky you should find limpets and periwinkles (aka winkles, not to be confused with the small purple flowers called Periwinkles too. They don’t live in rockpools…).
Both are common as sand at the seaside. Limpets and winkles are both easy to spot. Nothing much else looks like either of them and you should find both en masse at any rocky seaside area.
Next up, harvest them
Get a bucket, fill it half way or so with sea water and collect as many winkles as you think you’ll eat, plopping them in the bucket as you go. Try not to take more than you’ll need as it’s a waste of life.
The limpets present a slightly more interesting challenge. One gentle knock and they’ll fasten themselves to their rock like solder. So to get them, you need to give them one very hard, fast whack at their base.
It’s easiest using a rock or good sized pebble. You’ll get the knack in no time. Again, plop them in the bucket.
And always watch the tide. Take care not to venture out and get stranded.
Cook them up
You’ll find all sorts of recipes for limpets and winkles online. Here’s a simple way to do it back at a tent or caravan with a basic stove.
Boil a pan of water. When it’s fully boiling, put all the shells straight in (but not the sea water). They will die instantly and within seconds you’ll probably see the limpets come away from their shells. Cook them for a few minutes.
You need to clean the sand out of them so they need to cook in a few pots of water in succession. So once you’ve put them in the first pot, stick another on to boil. After a few minutes, fish them out of the first pot and in to the next. The limpet shells will be loose now so put them to the side – you’ll need them later…
Give them three or so cooks in pots of boiling water for a few minutes each time and you’re done.
A great way to tuck in
Now, try to find a hawthorn tree or bush. You’ll find them in fields, hedges and hillsides all over the country, with white or pink flowers in May, red berries in late Summer and smallish oak-like leaves (which are edible by the way, although only the young spring ones are nice).
Hawthorn has a long and wonderful history as a sacred tree in British folklore. Known as the faerie tree, the May Tree and a host of other names, its role in British rituals, myths and songs has been prominent for hundreds of years.
You can read more about this most beautiful and mysterious of trees at this nice Trees For Life article.
They also have great big thorns. Snap off enough long, woody thorns for each diner to have one.
Put the tips of the thorns in the boiling water for a few seconds just to be doubly safe and kill off any nastiness that might be on them.
Serve the shell food in bowls. They’re nice with a splash of lemon (and a glass of white wine).
To eat them, take the hawthorn thorn and use it to scoop the winkles out of the shells and to prick and pick up the limpets.
A tasty snack where even the cutlery is organic.
When you’re fed, make a fairy house
When you’re fully winkled-up and can’t squeeze down another limpet, give your kids the thorns and the limpet shells.
If they stick the thorns in the ground and balance the limpet shells on top, they can make a little hamlet for fairies, imps, pixies or if they prefer, more earthly beetles.
And of course they can let the imagination run wild with all manner of other stacks, shapes and games they can invent with the left over shells.