One of the great pleasures of having moved from London to Kent is the chance to get know the forageable plants of an entirely new landscape: the coast and marshes north of Faversham. It’s a striking landscape of huge skies, damp grazing, wading birds, dykes, ditches, sea walls and beaches. (I really must get around to laying my hands on a dedicated coastal foraging guide – if you have any recommendations, please do share them below.)
Sea beet is one of my favourite new edibles. Just as Fat Hen, which I made use of occasionally in London, is an ancestor of modern cultivated spinach, Sea Beet is an ancestor of cultivated beets such as beetroot, sugar beet and spinach beet. Fat Hen is a great deal better for you than even spinach, and I’ll guess that you can probably say the same for Sea Beet, though I haven’t looked into it. I’m going to have a go at spinach on the allotment this year, but I’m beginning to wonder why I would bother when the sea beet is out there in abundance just as close as my plot – and no weeds to battle. Another plus is that, according to Richard Mabey, it’s available to pick right through from April to November, which is very generous.
Helpfully for ID, the leaves of sea beet look very much like spinach leaves, and grow to a size that makes them easy to spot. Around here, you don’t need to go far out of town along the creek before you spot round bush-like clumps of it.
As it’s so much like spinach (though, I think, with a fuller flavour), there’s no point here in being prescriptive about it. I would say that, like spinach, it tends to reduce in volume a great deal when you steam or simmer it, so be sure to pick enough for your needs.
Below is what I rustled up – I had a go at home made puff pastry for the first time, made a topping of the sea beet with, I think, nutmeg, salt and pepper, feta and pine nuts. It was a great improvisation, I recommend it. Mabey has a recipe for sea beet with mussels, Roger Phillips details a quiche recipe and a soup of sea beet, rice and yoghurt.