This is the time of year when everyone takes to the sands with a bucket and spade. Not to build sand castles, but to help themselves to the fruits de mer; Oysters, muscles, clams, whelks, scallops all grow in abundance here on the Cotentin. This area has the biggest tides on the continent and twice a year the tide recedes a ridiculously long way, allowing access to the best hunting grounds for la Pêche à pied; fishing on foot. Last week saw one of the lowest tides of the year and as usual there was a flurry of activity as people of all ages went out in search of free food and fun.
Of course, as with (almost) every activity here there are regulations about what and how much you can take, but hard to see how they could be enforced with so many people on such a long stretch of coast. It’s an old tradition, probably one of the first forms of hunting that our coastal ancestors employed. And this coast has some of the best seafood in France. Granville is renowned for its Bulots (whelks) Blainville for Huîtres (oysters) and the isles of Chaussey for Homards (lobsters). One of my favourites is Palourdes (clams) which can be cooked in white wine and cream, like moules marinière or baked in the oven like escargots. Here they are truly enormous; the minimum size you can take is 4cm across.
The oysters in the picture are from Le Vivier sur mer, (literally ‘the fish farm by the sea’) one of the biggest mussel farms in Brittany. Here, a shack by the coast road serves mussels and oysters, accompanied by local cider and le pain artisanal. It is my favourite stop on the way home from Cancale, which also has a famous oyster market, also right on the sea front. I had never eaten oysters before visiting this part of France and rarely eat them anywhere else. Apart from the low price they are fresh from the sea and simply delicious.
It’s hard to live here and not enjoy food. On the last reading of the latest draft I realise that my characters spend a lot of time eating. Of course people have to at from time to time, but I wonder if my love of food has over-emphasised this aspect of my writing. Time for another edit!