Wild Food For Free

After weeks of rain, floods, landslides and grey, the sun shucked its cloudy bedclothes and came out to play. School was out, Nick home from work early, we found ourselves with the unaccustomed quandry of how best to spend a few sunny hours before supper.  After consideration, we bundled into the car, having decided that making a picnic would waste precious beach time.

Once there we let ourselves melt onto the pebbles, inhaled great lungfuls of salt air and leisurely moved chequers pieces around - not really caring one way or another about the outcome. Finn took our camera and amused himself for a while - watching other families through the view finder.

After a paddle in the millpond sea, I lay down and drifted off for a few blissful moments, until I was suddenly woken by Finn and Nick shouting my name. They gestured urgently for me to come, excitement dancing across their faces. I stumbled up from my doze, rubbing my eyes.

We ran down to the sea, which sparkled and frothed. A glittering crest rose up as we watched spellbound before it tumbled and spilled over the beach into a thousand silver arrows. Mackerel were chasing the whitebait into shore, the better to gobble them up.

The sea sucked back into another wave, leaving the fishes gasping dry on the shingle, twisting their tiny shimmering bodies as they tried to find their way back to safety.

Now I know these are baby fishes and will grow into bigger fishes if we let them, but my hunter's instinct told me to gather up just a few handfuls for supper, whilst I helped the rest back into the water. After all - they were only going to fill a mackerel's belly if not mine. When nature delivers a meal straight into your hands - it seems churlish to say no.

I scooped them greedily into my water bottle, under the shocked eyes of another mother, who whispered loudly to her children that she wouldn't eat baby fishes. I on the other hand, wondered if she was happy to eat baby sheep, or even barn raised chicken. But I kept these thoughts to myself and stowed the fish away safely, licking my salty lips in anticipation.

Finn grabbed the camera and snapped the photos here - I like the out of focus one the best, like a handful of shiny silver coins.

We drove home smiling at the unexpected joy of a sunny afternoon, our clothes spangled with tiny silver fish scales.

Nick cooked them in duck fat and we ate them simply sprinkled with Celtic sea salt, their crisp salty skin beautifully contrasted with soft sweet flesh. Fish is unbeatable when it has virtually jumped from sea to plate and supper never tastes better than when it is free.