These guys are worthy of a top end restaurant. But don’t bother emptying your wallet for them, you can fill a bag of these for free in no time at all.
Low tide is the time to find them, when the silty flats of Blue Skin Bay are exposed to the air. We couldn’t believe how many there were. Every time we sunk our hands into the sand, Clare and I would come up with whole handfuls. There is a bag limit, but it is generous 150 each. More than enough to feed a crowd.
After collecting you cockles, keep them in sea water overnight. This will keeps them Alive Alive-O (just how you want them), and also let them spit out sand from their digestive tract before it ends up in your own. I tried a few different recipes, and the best by far was to steam them in a little white wine and then drizzle over some burnt butter and sage.
I am not a vegan (more of a Pollan-esque omnivore). But even if I was, cockles might still be on the menu. They are animals, to be sure, but they have a very simple nervous system. This causes some people to suggest that this makes them incapable of feeling what we would call pain. The grandfather of animal ethics, Peter Singer, even espoused this view in his seminal work Animal Liberation.
The science is not conclusive. The first obstacle to finding a clear answer to this esoteric question is lack of funds. For this reason, most of the research has been done on more commonly eaten molluscs such as muscles. The second obstacle is that while science can do a good job of characterising the impulses and architecture of the nervous system, it is hard to extrapolate from this data to answer the question of whether what goes on might amount to pain. This uncertainty has caused Singer to change his stance, but many vegans still gladly indulge in what they consider a guilt-free delicacy.
Controversies aside, one common misconception which should definitely be corrected is the idea that cockles (and other molluscs) can’t move. Scallops are in fact strong swimmers, and even the diminutive cockle can wriggle when it needs to, just not quite fast enough to escape a hungry forager.
If your conscience allows, happy digging!