Dec 2, 2010

The beardy ones

December 2009.  This qualifies as a "delayed" post, but it also serves to get me in the mood for December 2010.  Which is soon.  Very soon. 

After our joyful lobster experiences, we suddenly found ourselves with a valid permit, and a deep urge for more.  So my sister and I went to Kommetje and spent a day bobbing around the waves, repeatedly hauling up a net.  Paddle to stay in the same spot, hoist, check, refill the bait bag with mangled sardines, try again.  The result?  Nothing bigger than my thumb.  At least I know they're there.  Dieper! Da agter die rif! shouted the others coming from the blue beyond.  I smiled, waved a friendly hand in response to their display of dog-sized lobster, and muttered to my sister that I'm already uncomfortable this far out and we're not budging.  I suspect she was silently relieved.  After four hours the tide had turned quite nasty, the wind was picking up again, my fingers were stiff, and my sister ominously quiet, so we stopped.    The beach was sunny and very bright.

With nothing to show except for an unexpectedly deep tan, stiff shoulders and a pervasive sardine smell, we decided to change tactics:  we needed a less agile prey.   Mussels.  With sun and moon again favourably aligned, and a quick bit of paperwork*, we return:  the sister, A and I.  Kommetje again, around Klein Slangkop.   Brilliant white sand, the crunch of kelp underfoot, brilliant water, fresh salty air.  Marie captured it here.

Out on the rocks, searching for mussel beds.  Feeling under water to find fat, plump ones.  They hide between rocks, usually in the space that is soon to be covered by the returning tide.  Feel, grip, pull.  As if you're picking fruit.   (Do any readers still pick fruit?)  When I was young, my seaside visits would be scheduled around the tides.  Low tide, at spring tide especially, was reserved for scrambling over boulders, peering into rock pools, imagining the alien world just metres away.  The rest of the day was for swimming, reading, and eating, the more mundane things.  Over time the need has become less urgent, but I still can't hop past a pool without peering in.  Fish dart away, snails ignore me, while plants and various tentacled things usually wave at me. 

Other people did not spend their youth in this way.  A, for example.  This naturally impeded her rock-hopping abilities, but we took a fairly easy route in, and if we had had returned earlier, the way out would have been easy too.  I believe the knowing how to handle yourself on rocks comes over time (you only step on the black stuff once, for example), but others apparently assume you must be born with the knowledge.  Matters did not improve when A decided to swim through the pool back to the beach, instead of following the admittedly splashy route I'd identified for our return.  The pool turned out to be really shallow and really rocky, with layers of seaweed to cunningly disguise the rough edges down below.  I heard a splash, a splutter, then a curse or ten.  Then a slow semi-suspended crawl though the water to a point of safely.   She insisted that she was fine. Not fine, but fine.  The kind of fine that suggests spectacular bruising, and not only of her body.  No-one ever said foraging is easy.**

But we now had a bucket filled with mussels.  Fat, beardy ones.  At home we left them in the shade, still under water, to gently exhale the sand they invariably collect.  In the meantime, we soothed bruised bodies with gin. 

Then the cleaning.  Take pliers in your one hand, the mussel gently in you left, grab the beard and zip it out.  One smooth movement - you don't want it to realise the trauma it's about to undergo, or it might clamp shut stubbornly.
Beard out?  Now scrub the shell to remove the miscellaneous bits of sea. I like steel wool, others use brushes.   It is quite a laborious process, but we had many hands. 

Later, in the kitchen.  A assembled a heavenly concoction of herbs, white wine, butter and garlic, while I shuffled batches of mussels through the cooking pot.  Boiling wine, with a beyond best lager, they should be in there just long enough to open, a couple of minutes at the most.   If you're keen on chewing orange rubber, you may leave them for longer.  And don't do it when I'm visiting.   The two of three that didn't open were discarded, but all the others were very happy.

More family joined us, bringing more wine.  Fresh bread, salad.  Laughter.  And plenty of mussels. 

* It's really inexpensive to get a permit, R40 or so, and could maybe help an overwhelmed department handle the assault on our seas.  It's the right thing to do. 
** I tried my best to sound sympathetic at the time, promise.  


arcadia said...

Dit moet dalk genoem word dat ek DONDERS hard geval het. En 'n tetanus shot moes kry omdat ek so erg geskraap was deur die rotse. The things I'll do for love.

Marie said...

Tetanus shot! Ow. Ek is te chicken om deur die pools te swem...jy was dapper, A. I hate not knowing what's under the seaweed.

Fantastiese post, lekker lekker lekker. Ek het nog nooit daar geoes nie, net naby Misty Cliffs. En jy's reg. You only step on the black stuff once.

Enige perels? Die Misty Cliffs mossels was vol daarvan.

arcadia said...

Ja. Ons sal weer gaan hierdie jaar, dalk is my balans dan beter? Of iets. Aanhouer wen.

jvdh said...

Oefen oefen oefen vir balans: nog 'n uitstappie kan lekker wees, Die keer dalk verder suid?

(M - die moontlikhede van wat onder die seegras is is nooit bespreek nie, kom ons hou dit dalk nog 'n rukkie so?)

arcadia said...

Nou is ek bang.