Posted by Sue Landsman on Apr.05, 2010
You’ve cooked with seaweed, maybe sprinkled it on your rice or put it in your miso soup — but you’re kind of put off by the price of the little bags you can get at your upscale food store. If you’re in the right place, whether on vacation or on a local jaunt, you can easily harvest all the seaweed, kelp specifically, that you could need. Even if you don’t really need to go to that extreme, sometime it’s fun to go out “into the field” and harvest your own food. This is a great way to find out where your food comes from, form a connection to nature, and nurture your body with the work of your own hands.
The kelp that you find in the pricy little bags is Bullwhip kelp. It grows in large beds away from shore, so you’ll have to boat or kayak out past the low tide line. It’s generally found in rocky areas. You’ll want to find a clean area far away from any pollution. Ask around, or contact a local wilderness awareness group; many offer wild harvesting classes or can at least point you to a good place for collecting. You can often find kelp washed onto the shore, but picking this up is like picking up a vegetable you’ve tossed on the ground earlier in the day; they’re already composting, and you’d much rather eat the fresh kelp.
Bullwhip kelp got its name because of the long, whiplike stalk that you’ll find connecting the kelp ribbons to the hollow bulb that holds them to a rock on the bottom of the sea. The stalks can group up to about a hundred feet long, and were used by early Native Americans to make fishing lines or nets, and to weave into baskets. But it’s the ribbons you want. These are the parts that float on the sea’s surface.
To harvest the kelp, row out to a kelp bed with a large bag and a knife. You can use a plastic garbage bag, but if you use a large mesh bag such as you’d buy bulk grapefruits in, it’ll be easier to drain the kelp or rinse them if you get sand into them. If you do need to rinse your kelp (maybe you’ve dropped your bag in the sand) then use salt water or you will damage your kelp.
Find a good bunch of fronds that are bright green and undamaged, and slide them into the bag. Then, slice the stalk beneath the fronds. If you want to pickle the kelp, you can collect a few feet of the stipe. Don’t yank the kelp out; as long as the kelp stalk (or stipe) is attached to the sea floor, it will grow back its ribbons. Modern industrial kelp harvesting is often unsustainable, because the harvesting machines rip the stalks off the ocean floor. This kills the plant. Hand-harvesting seaweed has a minimal impact on the coastal seaweed population and encourages regrowth and reasonable initial toll on the seaweed population.
Once you’ve harvested your kelp, you need to know what to do with it. You can pickle your kelp by preparing a pickling brine, slicing the stipe into rounds or spears, and then preparing them like you’d make cucumber pickles. Here is a kelp pickle recipe for sweet pickles:
2 cups hollow kelp stipes
2 cups sugar
2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp mustard seed
2 tsp pickling spice
1 medium onion, sliced
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
Combine all ingredients and let sit for a few hours, then boil and seal in jars.
Most people like to dry their kelp and crumble it to use in soups or seasoning mixes. To dry your kelp, hang it on a clothesline with simple clothesline hangers until it is either dry or mostly dry. Once it is mostly dry, you can use a food dehydrator to get it the rest of the way. It should crumble easily when it’s done. Once you have done this, you can slice the fronds (this might work easier when it’s still slightly damp) and store to put in soup, or crumble into a mix with sesame seeds.
Article By: Sue Landsman
Profile: “I am a freelance writer with a background in science and technical writing. I currently enjoy writing about parenting and education with the occasional extremely short story thrown in. Or not. “
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