Sea Kale

seakalethumb.JPGWe took a walk along the shingle beach between Hamble Marina and Warsash and found seakale.

What Is Seakale?

Crambe maritima - This tough seaside plant has thick, wavy leaves that are grey-green tinged with purple, and very fleshy and rubbery in texture.

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It looks quite similar to a cabbage or cauliflower plant, and this is no surprise, as it is related.

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If you catch it at exactly the right time in spring (as we did), when the flower buds are just emerging, they can be cut and eaten like broccoli.

I carefully cut a handful of the inflorescences and took them home - the plants - which are perennials will recover, branching to send up new flowers.

seakale3.JPGI trimmed, washed and steamed the tops and served them with just a little butter.

The taste is quite distinctive - similar to broccoli, but a bit stronger. There is also a slight bitter flavour, which could be overcome by serving with a cheese sauce, perhaps.

Eating Seakale

The best way to enjoy seakale is to blanch or force the shoots - this involves covering the plant to completely exclude light, as soon as it starts to sprout in the spring, leaving it covered for several weeks.

The resulting growth will then be pale, spindly and tender, but unless you have the plant growing on your own land, or find it in a fairly remote location, it's not practically possible to keep it covered for so long.

Cautionary Note

If you pick only the youngest, tenderest parts of the normal growth, and are prepared to tolerate just a little bitterness, then this can still be an interesting vegetable, even without blanching.

However, it should probably not be consumed in large quantities, or frequently - the unblanched growth contains oxalates - these can interfere with the body's absorption of iron and can also contribute to disorders such as gout and kidney stones.

The day after eating just one handful of the tops, I can still taste a rhubarb-like astringency in my mouth. Proceed with caution...

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