Penclawdd Cockles, South Wales
Gathering cockles is believed to have gone on in Penclawdd, situated just north across the Gower via the B4295 from Swansea , since at least Roman times and probably far longer than that. The muddy flats left at low tide when the water exits the Burry Inlet offer a rich environment for the cockle.
Until relatively recently the gathering was done by women, supplementing their family income, but these days it is men who do the hand raking of the mud to find the little creatures. This retention of the hand-raking method, and Parliamentary protection which restricts the harvest to carefully controlled license holders, helps to sustain the environment and the industry.
As would be expected, with such a plentiful and excellent ingredient available to it, local cuisine features the cockle in various dishes traditional and innovative. Most traditional of all is the South Wales breakfast of cockles, bacon, and Laverbread , a meal to prepare a body for the rigours of labour in the coal mines or metal-working plants of the region. And a meal rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, with the fat from the bacon to give a worker energy as well.
Modern Welsh chefs use the cockle with a bit more imagination: it will be found in rich chowders; and combined with other seafoods like prawns and scallops with spicing from the exotic East (and that doesn’t mean Abergavenny ). But we shouldn’t overlook their use in that far simpler but no less wonderful pan-British delicacy, cockles dowsed in malt vinegar, found on market stalls and seaside kiosks the country over.
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