I’d like to lead a cheer for the humble Winkle. Hip, Hip, Hooray! I say, for this wonderful little mollusc. Hoorah! Hoorah!
Winkles are, without a doubt, the kindest pieces of protein available to the forager. They are easy to find, easy to identify and easy to gather, and it is a real shame that they are so under exploited these days as a food resource. The problem may be that they are just so fiddly to eat – if there is a knack to extracting cooked Winkles from their shells then I don’t have it. Or it may be that they just too closely resemble the Garden Snail (to which they are indeed related (and which, too, incidentally, is perfectly edible)) to render people squeamish. But please note: I will be encouraging you to give Garden Snails a try at some point in this blog, so you may want to build yourself up with a few Winkles.
Finding and Identification
You will have absolutely no trouble at all finding Winkles (or Periwinkles, as they are sometimes called). They are extremely common down by the seashore, and it will take probably no more than a 10 minute scramble across the rocks to gather a hundred or more. The only thing you need worry about is the state of the tide, and the cleanliness of the water (see my Molluscs entry on my Forager’s Toolkit page).
Identification is also simple – the only things you are likely to confuse your Winkles with are Dog Whelks or Top Shells – both of which are edible and just as tasty. But see my Edible Molluscs A-Z page for full pictures and description.
Now, I’m going to be honest with you: eating Winkles is probably more of a chore than any meal ever should be – in fact it could probably constitute its own sport. Twisting out the cooked flesh from a Winkle’s shell with a pin is an incredibly fiddly and frustrating business. But fear not, for it is invariably made enjoyable when there are a group of you all struggling together, maybe after having boiled up a batch over an open fire on the beach, with perhaps some alcoholic lubrication applied.
Winkle recipes are very few and far between – I can find none whatsoever on WordPress to direct you to, and there are only three suggestions in the books that I have on the subject. But I have located one enthusiastic forager with a few ideas, and so I divert you to WILD AND FREE to check them out. Alternatively, I have devised my own recipe for them – Crunchy Winkle Dippers – designed, admittedly, to conceal the rather grey and rubbery-slug-looking flesh that curls out of the shell (though certainly not to disguise the taste: Winkles are actually surprisingly sweet, and slightly livery). Hopefully this crispy treat may convert a few Winkle skeptics to this excellent and under-explored free meat. Go on – give them a try, and then give them a cheer!