Source: Nova Scotia Kitchens
The experience of being on a rocky Nova Scotia beach on a hot, calm July morning at low tide is like nothing else. If you’re familiar with the variety of ocean scents through the seasons, you can imagine the blended smell of hot sand and seaweed at the tide line, drying in the sun. Tiny sand fleas spring up from the crispy seaweed, and the sound of seagulls and the waves lapping the beach, again and again, provides the background music. One of the inspirations for Nova Scotia Kitchens is the culinary history of this province, and the importance of the ocean to life in this place. For generations, my family has relied on the sea and its gifts, and I don’t take that lightly. Since it is summer, the busiest and most popular season for heading to the shore, I thought that I would take you on a field trip to a tiny little beach near the house where I grew up.
My friend Sacha and I are kindred spirits; we both have a deep and abiding love for plants, and use them in a million ways throughout the year. Sacha and her husband Jimmy (featured in the Jimmy’s Shrimp and Grits episode from season 1) have a stall at the Yarmouth Farmer’s Market, and they sell fresh and dried mushrooms that they grow, as well as a lovely selection of seasoning blends and teas from their gardens at BullyGoth Farm. I asked Sacha if she’d like to come along to the beach with me, and she was excited as I was.
Rosa Rugosa, or beach roses, are abundant along the coast. They have a heady rose fragrance, and the velvety petals are most often deep pink, but white is also common. They thrive in the tough combination of salty air and wild winds, and somehow combine those elements to produce delicate, fragile blossoms every summer. Most years, I make a point to collect and dry petals to use in tea blends or as a decoration on foods. I’ve also made rose water, which is lovely, but this time around, I wanted to try some sweet ways to use them. And as a summertime bonus, these are the quickest and easiest recipes imaginable.
Seaweed is something that I have been fascinated with for a long time and have used in making soap, face scrubs and masks, but I got really excited about eating it after listening to one of Lindsay Cameron’s podcast episodes, Seaweed for the People a few years ago. Then I found some recipes in Simon Thibault’s book Pantry and Palate. And then I borrowed this book from the library. And then I came across Angela Willard’s videos on YouTube – it’s a slippery-slope-deep-dive into the fascinating world of seaweeds! Sacha and I gathered some Irish Moss, which is used in myriad ways in the food and cosmetics industries. We found all kinds of creatures to examine, and generally were as excited as kids in a candy store, bent over tidepools. I was hoping to share a blancmange recipe, made using the Irish Moss, and photos of a beautiful result, but unfortunately mine did not set, and I had no time to try another batch before going away the next day. It’s one that I will be trying again, though – I think that I just didn’t cook it for quite long enough. It’s more or less a pudding that uses Irish Moss as the gelling agent, somewhat similar to panna cotta. The recipe I tried was a very basic milk one with vanilla; I may also try this more complex one which includes eggs. Let me know if you try a recipe and have better luck than my first attempt!
If you’re interested in the amazing variety of life at the beach, including types of seaweeds, this Peterson Field Guide is excellent.
Sacha and I mention:
Witch’s hair seaweed (and my maniacal cackle)
If you’re looking for perfect beach-inspired summer reads, Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is so, so wonderful, and you can soak it up in an afternoon. We Keep a Light by Evelyn Richardson is the story of Nova Scotian lighthouse keepers on Bon Portage Island off of Shag Harbour near Barrington in the 20’s and 30’s and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I hope that you’re able to enjoy some time on a Nova Scotian beach this summer!