It was the strangest thing. The tide was out and we were taking a walk across the Cove, glorying in the sunset and the feeling of being warm! when we spotted a large dark lump of something ahead of us. Was it a dead whale? A seal? No, it was a mass of tangled mussel socks and ropes. Being a proper scavenger I tried to loosen some of the ropes, but they were set into three concrete mooring weights. Then what about all those perfectly good baby mussels—tens of thousands of them?
Next morning I returned to the Cove with a serrated garden knife and bucket and sawed off a chunk of torn netting with mussels attached. Went home and picked the mussels out of the netting, washed the pear-shaped shells (2 cm long) and put them in a plastic bag in fridge. Next day washed them some more—they were MUDDY from being dragged along the sea floor. Steamed them with a splash of white wine, a handful of chopped lovage and some fresh green onions. Saved the liquid. Took the tiny morsels out of their shells. Cooked up some potatoes and onions, thickened the broth with a little flour and butter, prepared to add the mussels—but then thought I’d call my neighbor and tell her all about it. She has a daughter who is a mussel farmer and, well, maybe there is something I should know about eating baby mussels. My neighbor thought they’d be fine, but her husband said, “I wouldn’t touch them.” Damn. His brother had been poisoned once by eating shellfish, etc etc.
I really hated to throw away those baby mussels! I ate a few (they were delicious and I’m still alive) but we decided to simplify life and have potato and onion chowder instead. The mussels are now fertilizing our rhubarb. Interestingly, female mussels are pinkish-orange inside while the males are cream-colored. All the mussels I cooked up were cream-colored which is apparently how they all start out.
Wild blue mussels, Mytilus edulis, live in the rocky shores along our coastlines where they attach themselves to submerged surfaces like rocks and wharf pilings. Starting out as fertilized larvae, they swim around happily for a few weeks before deciding to settle down and get on with life. Wild mussels are perfectly delicious but almost always contain a pearl. During World War II they were harvested and canned here but people were not fond of biting into pearls. In the 1980’s fishermen started growing them on suspended longlines and we now enjoy delicious pearl-free blue mussels all year round.
My neighbor talked to her talked to her mussel farming daughter a few days ago. Apparently the mussels are fine to eat: they’re just tiny. Her daughter said that a storm must have churned up the water under the sea causing the weights to start rolling, and voilà! Everything ended up in a big pile in the Cove.
Isn’t the shore the most interesting place?