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Seaweed in the Kitchen [Book Review] by Sally McKenna

All the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.

Fiona Bird is a forager, living in the Outer Hebrides. She’s a seaweed specialist, but also has a terrific understanding of the entire edible coastline. This is her third book, the others being a book on foraging, and a book for children. She also, as one always has to say, is a previous finalist in MasterChef. Put all this together, and you have an exciting mix of talent, enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, pioneer spirit and adventure, and this book was always destined to be a good read.

The recipes here are brilliant, because they’re not just recipes with a bit of seaweed thrown in - seaweed is at the core of each dish. Beef cheek and seaweed casserole, smoked seaweed cockles; dulse soup; are all recipes that wouldn’t be the same without seaweed. She’s also somewhat hard-core when it comes to what she chooses to eat from the coastline. She gives recipes for kelp stipes, and eschews the modern accessible seaweed sprinkles.

There’s plenty of fun here with her sea fudge, beetroot and sugar kelp dust, pomegranate and sea lettuce sorbet – and some landmark recipes, such as her seaweed sourdough starter, or sugar kelp and gammon scratchings. This is a book for kids as well – I love the idea of seaweed sparklers.

There are also plenty of recipes for the neighbouring plants that live alongside seaweed, such as sea aster, sea-buckthorn and marsh and rock samphire. There are chapters on medicine and nutrition (written by her husband, Dr Stephen Glover Bird), the history of seaweed, and the seaweed industry.

It’s a great reference book, that gives you just about every common name going between Celtic, Gaelic, French, Japanese and Latin. I didn’t know, for example that Alaria esculenta was also known as Dabberlocks, Badderlocks, Murlins, Honeyware, Atlantic wakame, Wing kelp and Henware.

Chapter five is entitled The Seaweed Sisterhood, and describes the Victorian female seaweed collectors, and their correspondence, illustrations and publications. This is most apt, for Fiona Bird fits in well here, a pioneer phycologist and seaweed pathfinder, and this is a book to treasure.


Seaweed in the Kitchen, by Fiona Bird (Prospect Books)

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