Growing up in England in the 1960s and 70s I was not really exposed to much in the way of exotic food. The supermarkets and grocery stores of the day did not carry the dazzling array of products that you can find today. The food I enjoyed as a child was good and wholesome but relatively plain.
There was one thing that featured on my childhood menu that I later came to realise was fairly unusual for the time and that was samphire. In recent years this edible plant found all around the British coast has become something of a trendy ingredient, popping up in smart restaurants and featuring in food magazines and TV shows. But when I was a kid it was a regular seasonal treat.
Across the street from the house I grew up in was an old fashioned corner shop. There is still a shop there today but whereas the 21st century incarnation is a typical modern convenience store, when I was young it was a slightly dark and dingy space that hadn’t changed much since the 50s. It was an off licence and it sold tobacco and sweets and basic grocery items. As a young kid I always thought the owner, Norman Scott, was something of a grumpy old man and was always a bit apprehensive if my Mum sent me across the street to pick something up.
Photo courtesy of peterboroughimages.co.uk
In the summer, when samphire was in season, Norman would regularly drive to Norfolk and pick samphire in the muddy marshes by the coast and bring it back to sell in his shop. As a kid this seemed totally normal to me but looking back it was slightly strange to get freshly foraged marsh samphire in a humble corner shop over fifty miles from the sea.
When we did get our hands on samphire we ate it simply: lightly boiled and served hot with melted butter, which would run down our fingers as we ate the soft fleshy fronds.
Sadly it has been quite a few years since I last tasted samphire. On this side of the Atlantic it is known as sea beans and I have occasionally spotted it in Whole Foods but just haven’t been able to bring myself to pay the eye-watering price. I shall have to make sure my next trip to England coincides with the samphire season and include a jaunt to the coast on my itinerary.