Home » Food and Wine » An Ocean Basket

An Ocean Basket

An Ocean Basket

There’s a feast for foragers along the low tide waterline

Words and Pictures Diana Wemyss

The two women crouched, absorbed, over a rock pool. Every now and then they plunged their arms into the water to pull large, stubborn mussels from the rocks. The tide was turning. From far out, along the horizon, a wave built up sneakily and leapt for the shore. It swept the two of them clean off their feet, tumbling them over in a giddy surge of spray and foam.

Using kelp or sea bamboo, Roushanna explains the various seaweeds along our shores.

Using kelp or sea bamboo, Roushanna explains the various seaweeds along our shores.

Rolling about laughing, they clung to their bags of mussels, the spoils of that morning’s forage. Nothing was going to part them from lunch. They were part of a group of 16 people who joined Roushanna Gray for an inspiring and hilarious morning on one of her many seasonal, coastal foraging expeditions to Scarborough Beach near Cape Point.

It’s become quite the buzzword, has foraging, one that ties in with a natural instinct for survival, and today’s concerns about the quality of food we buy. Roushanna, a feisty slip of a girl, a true Kaapenaar mix of Malay and Jewish, and with an educational overlay of Rudolf Steiner, is married to Tom Gray, owner of Good Hope Gardens Landscaping, and son of Gael Gray, owner of the indigenous Good Hope Gardens Nursery near Cape Point.

Living in this unspoilt part of the Peninsula, Roushanna felt that many of the plants growing wild around her had to be good enough to eat, and started to read up on them, and experiment and cook dishes made from fynbos gathered in and around nursery.

After the expedition comes time on the lawn making friends.

After the expedition comes time on the lawn making friends.

Soon she had devised and organised several foraging expeditions, with accompanying cooking classes and feasts. It was a short step to extend those foraging expeditions from the fynbos to the seashore.

The group I joined met in the parking lot of Scarborough Beach, each equipped with mussel licence, bags and scissors, and dressed in shorts, and slip-slops or booties to protect us from the rocks. A mussel licence can be bought from your local post office for R96 and lasts a year, giving you a daily quota of 30 black mussels and 10kg seaweed. Good thing that everyone had their licences because the men from CapeNature Conservation were on patrol to check up on us as we headed out.

Roushanna dug out a tin of sea biscuits from her backpack, padkos to sustain us before we crossed the rocks. As we munched on these treats she explained the highly nutritious properties of seaweeds or sea algae: a rich source of iodine, calcium, vitamins A to K, iron and one of the few vegetable sources of vitamin B12. “A tablespoon of seaweed has the equivalent potassium of 50 bananas,” she said.

The seaweeds we collected on our forage were ulva or sea lettuce – a bright green, frothy seaweed; wrack – a thin, brown seaweed; nori sheets that resemble a black plastic bag; and kelp or sea bamboo. Sea bamboo is tough stuff, good for thickening stews and soups. It can grow to over 12m and forms dense, waving forests along our west coast. Near the equator this seaweed, called sargassum, forms great floating islands that give the still waters of the Doldrums its name, the Sargasso Sea.


Roushanna Gray with a large bowl of kelp and avo salad.

Roushanna admitted that some people are put off by the smell and texture of seaweeds and find them hard to eat. “But there are plenty of other benefits to it, such as in beauty treatments,” she said. “Seaweed baths were popular in Edwardian and Victorian times. Immersing yourself in such a bath promotes circulation, moisturises your skin and helps heal sore muscles. Face masks are another great way of making the most of the rich nutrients and mineral salts in seaweed.”

So off we went across the rocks, snipping the seaweeds and plucking the mussels. It was a fine day with very little wind and the sea was warmer than usual. By mid-morning, as the tide turned and drenched some of the group, we had collected our quota of mussels and seaweeds and all headed up through the fynbos to mother-in-law Gael Gray’s beach cottage.

Here we were divided into four groups to cut and wash and cook, and everyone mucked in at a long rustic table in the garden. Chopping and slicing and scrubbing mussels as we sat on the grass gave us pause to get to know one another.

Roushanna, in her rather quiet but very organised way, drew everything together, and before we knew it we were sitting down to a feast of mussels and salads that truly matched any gourmet dish in the very best of restaurants.

More From Country Life

Send this to a friend