I recently got asked if I’d like to join master weaver Stu for a morning of mussel foraging along Keurbooms coastline in Plettenberg Bay. An irresistible offer, of course – not only do I love foraging for mussels, but I’d get to spend a morning breathing that unique mix of salty ocean and fynbos air, hopping along rocks, photographing the beautiful Garden Route landscape and picking my own dinner – and at the same time get a glimpse into a typical day of Mungo’s master weaver, Stuart Holding.
To time it right with the low tide, we had to meet up early and it being Autumn, it was a proper freezing, crisp but clear morning – with all the promises of it turning into a beautiful day.
Being relatively new at Mungo, I expected a mellow, little walk down the beach. I arrived, armed with my camera, in jeans, thermals, a big puffy jacket and my feet in socks in Birkenstocks – which I decided to hide behind a rock once my feet hit the sand.
I know, I know.
I really should know by now, that the Holdings don’t do “mellow little walks down the beach” when they go foraging for mussels.
What followed was a 3km hike along the coast, and if you have hiked the Ottertrail, you know what these paths are like. Whilst Stu and his son-in-law skipped their way to our secret location, I clambered over barnicle-covered rocks, slipped bare-foot down muddy, prickly fynbos paths, and carefully waded through icy rock pools.
By the time we arrived, my feet weren’t very happy. But I was smiling from ear-to-ear. Now the real fun began and the barefoot hike was totally worth every scratch on my delicate feet – these rock pools were dripping with mussels and my mouth was already watering.
Stu whipped out his tools, wrapped in a Mungo Man cloth, which has definitely seen better days but was still going strong. He casually proceeded to harvest what was going to be our dinner, wading deep into the rock pools, and showing little concern to some dangerously big-looking waves crashing around him. I watched and photographed, fascinated, to see someone so at ease in the ocean, carefully removing a stray piece of gut, and knowing to only pick mussels bigger than his thumb to let the smaller guys grow. Master weaver Stu is clearly also a master at foraging mussels.
The day turned warm, we scrubbed, cleaned and de-bearded the mussels, wrapped them in a Utility Cloth – designed by Stu himself, a hardy cloth that proved itself true to its name – and rewarded ourselves with a little dip in the Mermaids pool. The hike back somehow felt much easier – maybe my feet were numb, or maybe I was just on a nature high – I may have even skipped along some rocks.
It goes without saying that dinner that night was out of this world. There is something magical about foraging your own food, preparing a meal together and cooking over an open flame.
And if you’re wondering about the recipe – this was our attempt at éclade de moules. Smoking your mussels in a nest of pine needles is the way local Bordeaux fishermen used to cook their mussels straight on the beach after a long day out at sea (which seemed kind of fitting to us). All you need is mussels, some pine needles and bread and butter. The mussels are traditionally arranged on a plank of pine that has been soaked in seawater – we skipped that step and just arranged them in a little circle around a rock. They are then covered in pine needles, that once set alight, will smoulder and burn for about five minutes, leaving behind a bracing aroma and mussels filled with smokey meat. We served ours with a white wine dressing. Voila – simple as that.