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The following was contributed by an Irish relative in County Sligo, Ireland. He will be a guest contributor from time to time:
Nineteenth century Ireland suffered many years of localised crop failure. The Gotta Mór (the Great Hunger) of 1845-7 is remembered mainly because the crop failure was so widespread, but also because it was accompanied by major epidemics of cholera and typhoid which devastated a weakened population.
Maritime communities fared marginally better as they had access to food from the sea. The men fished, but it was women and children who scoured the shoreline at low tide for shellfish and edible sea-weed. On rocky shores they found periwinkles in rock pools, limpets attached to rocks and crabs in crevices under rocks or under drifts of seaweed. On sandy shores they could find cockles, mussels, razor-fish and clams.
There are four types of edible seaweed. Dillisk (Rhodymenia palmate) comes from the Gaelic word “ Duileasc “ which is derived from “ duill uisce “which translates as “water leaf” and it has almost become a generic name for all edible seaweeds. It is reddish in colour and grows as a parasite on other seaweeds. It does best in sheltered bays and it can be eaten fresh or dried. You can still find it for sale occasionally usually from a van at a market or from a house with a hand written sign outside.
The most common type of edible seaweed found in exposed areas is “Creathnach” (Ulva lactuca) a kind of sea lettuce that grows profusely on the seaward side of rocks. It can be found all year round and can be eaten fresh but it is much more nutritious if it is boiled (on milk) for at least an hour. It cannot be dried.
“ Sleabhach “ ( Porphyra umbilicalis) grows on rocks from Autumn to Spring but is at its best in January – February. The fronds stick together on the rocks when they dry and can be lifted off flat rocks in large sheets and ribbons. It is boiled for at least an hour often on milk. It cannot be dried.
The fourth type of edible sea weed was “Cairrgín” ( Chondrus crispus ). It starts off red but turns green in sunlight and white when dried. It grows low down on the sea shore so it needs to be a very low tide to pick it. If it is cooked in milk for about half an hour and the fronds are removed, it sets into something like a blancmange. It was considered an excellent food for those convalescing after an illness. It can be purchased in some health food shops as Carrageen moss. The blancmange can be improved by adding a sweetened fruit such as cooked gooseberry or raspberries.
Nori used in sushi dishes is a processed form of “Sleabhach”. Apparently the Japanese farm over 600 square kilometres of the seaweed and the annual crop is worth a billion dollars. Here is a recipe to impress your Japanese friends.
Sleabhach agus Ruacháin
(Slough-uck a-guss Roo-caw-in)
Nori and Cockles
Ingredients per individual serving
3-4 oz. Nori
15 – 20 Cockles
Cook the Nori in milk for an hour. Cook the cockles in their own juice. If the Nori sheets have not broken up put them in a food-processor for a few moments Serve with a Nori mound in the centre, pour over it a little of the cockle juice and top it with a generous blob of butter. Surround the Nori with the cockles and serve.
I have never seen Nori or the inside of a sushi restaurant, but believe it should work. The original is delicious and cockles go particularly well with “Sleabhach” though other types of shellfish were also used. Perhaps someone who tries the recipe might post his or her culinary review.
See additional Irish family history articles and lessons learned in earlier posts below and in the archives.
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