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Orkney dumplings and more: the edible seaweeds of Stromness

Dumplings, Orkney Style
Dumplings, Orkney Style

   

In July 2018 we spent 2 weeks in Stromness, Orkney, in a house close to the southern tip of the mainland, known as Ness Point.
We used the opportunity to see what species of seaweeds we would be able to find on the coast there.

Good advice by Mark Williams  helped us choose the right times and tides for our excursions.
Also, note his points on how to harvest seaweed responsibly

  • Never pull, always cut.
  • Take just the upper one third.
  • Never take rare species. Check what they are!
  • Spread your picking. Don’t take all from one spot.
  • And, let me add, take any trash and plastic you find on the beach with you, too.

 

We walked the rocky coast from Ness Point, by the little white lighthouse, below the golf course and up to Warbeth beach, past the Stromness cemetery.

The lighthouse
The lighthouse
Map: The coast at Ness Point
Map: The coast at Ness Point

 

The upper tidal zone of the rocks is largely dominated by Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), and a mix of other wracks, such as Toothed Wrack (Fucus Serratus), with light green spots of Gutweed (Ulva intestinalis) strewn in.

Coastline at NessPoint - with lots of Bladderwrack
Coastline at NessPoint – with lots of Bladderwrack

In some places, large pools of rotting wrack produce quite a stench … and, don’t walk into those (like i did once, by accident, with sneakers on .. they smell of rotten seaweed to this day …) …. Small birds however love those nutrient pools, as they likely find insects or such there.

Rotting pool
Rotting pool

                        

You will also find a lot of torn off pieces of Kelp (Laminaria digitata) and leaves of Sugar Kelp, Saccharina latissima.
Smaller patches of Osmundea pinnatifada are found on rocks from high to lower tidal zones.

It gets more diverse and interesting as you go down, where you will find Sea Spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata,
and Dulse, Palmaria palmata.

 

 

 

Bladderwrack, Fucus vesiculosus

Bladderwrack
Bladderwrack

Bladderwrack is known to be a valuable source of oils and ingredients for cosmetics, perfumes, and so forth. Essential oil made from this wrack retails for about $15 for a milliliter, or £15000 for a liter.
It is really good for the skin – just try pop one of these little bubbles and spread the juice on your skin!

While it does not taste bad and can absolutely be used as a somewhat salty spicy addition to salads and fried meals, it was not exactly our favorite among the seaweeds.

 

Bladderwrack
Bladderwrack

 

 

 

 

 

Gutweed, Ulva intestinalis

The worst part of Gutweed in foods is the fact that it just loves to keep sand in its fine hairy light green leaves – you will have to rinse it thoroughly and repeatedly, and again, and then some – unless you want to chew sand.
But once its rinsed, it makes a wonderful salad or, dried and fried, a crispy snack.

Gutweed patch on rock
Gutweed patch on rock
Gutweed and wrack
Gutweed and wrack
Salad of Gutweed and some Bladderwrack

 

Kelp, Laminaria digitata

Kelp was once the center of big industry in Orkney, from the early 18th to the early 19th century.
Kelp would be collected, burned and sold as fertilizer, and source of potash and soda.
You can read more about it here:
Kelp Burning in Orkney

Kelp-making - a book at the Library
Kelp-making – a book at the Library
Kelp production in the 18th century
Kelp production in the 18th century

At Ness Point, you will find a lot of kelp washed ashore, but if you look to harvest some for food, go futher down on the rocks, and cut the tips (only!) of some of the plants still sitting on the rocks.

Kelp stems washed ashore
Kelp stems washed ashore

Under the name Kombu, Kelp is a common ingredient in asian cuisines, and the leaves we found in Orkney, are of very good quality and taste.
Our favorite way of preparing them is to use dried sheets, soak them in warm water for a bit, and then use them in miso style soups, as filling for dumplings where they blend nicely with shrimps or meat, or use them as vegetables in noodle or rice dishes. Kelp also adds a nice salty taste to bread.

Kelp Bread
Nordic Bread with Kelp

 

Sea spaghetti, Himanthalia elongata

Well, it looks like spaghetti, just greener.

Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti
Sea spaghetti - with its typical hold-fasts
Sea spaghetti – with its typical hold-fasts

You will often find it together with kelp, in the lower tidal zones, where it sits on rocks, clinging to them with its very characteristic button-shaped hold-fasts.

It looks like spaghetti, and you can eat it like spaghetti: boil it for 15 – 20 minutes, keep the water which will have turned somewhat green and quite intense in taste. Use it to season your dishes, or to boil pasta in.
We love blending sea spaghetti with pasta, adding a little cream or soya milk, making a beautiful green and white mixed dish.
We also got the advice to boil sea spaghetti in milk, but we have yet to try this.

Dulse, Palmaria palmata

Our absolute favorite, the star of all the seaweeds, vegan bacon! Dulse!

It is a bit harder to find – look out for relatively small (10, 12 inch) red-brownish leaves with very characteristic finger-shaped tips.
Again, make sure you only cut a sensible amount – never take the whole plant.

Fried dulse
Fried dulse
Fresh dulse (the red leaves)
Fresh dulse (the red leaves)
Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)
Making white pizza with vegan bacon (dulse)

You can use these fresh or dried. The wonderful umami flavor, very close to “real” bacon is strongest when you fry fresh or dried leaves in butter.

ID problems for danish nationalism

Yes, problems for, not with danish nationalism.

There is an interesting new book* which looks at the way
the Viking myth was constructed in the 19th century, at a time when danish nationalists urgently needed some kind of alleged history to bolster up danish self esteem – thus,  what originally was little more than a job title (Viking) had to become a race, a nation even – and of course a somewhat superior one.

There is, however, a problem with this attempt at Viking-Danish identification.

As is widely known, the birth hour of Danmark, the creation of Danmark as a nation state, is marked by the oldest written documents (stones, that is) we have about this, The Jelling Stones.
They also mark the conversion of Denmark from Norse paganism to Christianity.

The irony here is that Danmark succumbing to the foreign Christian rulers actually marked the (beginning of the) end of Northern greatness and dominance – an act of economically driven opportunism and, arguably, cowardice.
The time of northern greatness was not danish, the time of northern danishness was/is not all that great.

Christianization of the Nordics – here, Orkney – From the Orkneyinga Saga

(I remember the danish national tv’s series on danish history (“Historien om Danmark”) constantly battling with this, too – they kept talking about “danish” people and regions at a time when there was no such thing as Danmark.
Even the Egtved Girl (c. 1390–1370 BC), a Nordic Bronze Age girl (and an immigrant from Germany [sic], btw) was labeled “danish”.)

So, modern danish nationalism, claiming to be firmly rooted in Christianity, and Viking pride have a really hard time walking hand in hand.

This is a friction painfully felt when right-wing nationalist Danish People’s Party politicians both try to discriminate against Muslim danes (because, we are Christians here!), write christianity into the governement programme, and at the same time try to snuggle up to Viking renaissance and Asatro (the same Asatro that was sidelined, if not killed, by the Christian conquest).
You somehow can’t have both. 

 

 

  • Anders Lundt Hansen: Sølv, blod og kongemagt – Bag om vikingemyten. Udgivet af Gyldendal. Udkommer 28. maj.