Newlyn Mussels

In what has become a holiday tradition, we took the hour-long drive down to Newlyn to buy shellfish from the harbour wall. The Newlyn fishmongers are the real deal; there is no fuss, just glistening fresh north Atlantic fish presented on slabs of ice. Turbot, sole, whiting, mackerel, monkfish, scallops, mussels, crabs (spider and brown), little tiny prawns, lobster, dab… I would have happily taken home the lot. Even better, the prices are cheaper than in Brum, which I suppose is what you’d expect given that the fishing boats land 100m away.

We bought a kilo of mussels, filthy with seaweed. They needed a good soak and a lengthy pick with a small knife to loosen off the beards and general detritus. But cleaned up, these were the king of mussels, fat and full.

I steamed them open in white wine, garlic and shallots, then finished the sauce with a handful of parsley and a dollop of clotted cream. We mopped up the sauce with crusty sourdough, bought from a tiny deli near Newlyn Art Gallery. To finish, new season cherries and strawberries.

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Newlyn mussels

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New season strawberries and cherries

Newlyn Mussels


Olive oil

1 kilo mussels, thoroughly cleaned

1 shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Dry white wine, about a wine-glass full

Clotted cream, about a tablespoon

Flat-leaf parsley, a good handful

In a wide-lidded frying pan or saucepan, melt a knob of butter with the olive oil on a medium heat. When frothing, add the shallot and soften for a minute or two. Add the garlic and cook until the scent rises – about 20 seconds. Toss in the mussels with the white wine, give the pan a shake, then cover and leave to cook. The mussels will open in the steam, it usually takes about 3 or 4 minutes. When nearly done, dollop in the cream and the parsley and shake to combine. Cook for a minute more, then serve. Good crusty bread is essential to mop up the juices.

Food bingo

As I write, the waves are rolling onto an inlet beach, the sun reflecting onto thousands of flecks of silver. Every two minutes the view changes as the tide ventures in, clouds change form, the light angles in new ways. I’m still working – that bit always seems a constant – but doing it with a new view. It makes a difference.

Cornwall means three things to me: wild landscape, art and food. Food bingo to be precise.

But first, the art. We visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum yesterday in St Ives, her studio and garden left pretty much as it was when she died in the 1970s. This woman raised four children (including triplets) whilst creating a new language in sculpture. The official Tate biography doesn’t give any insight into how on earth that was managed. How did she have the space, the mental space, to work? A mystery. Official keepers of art, in my experience, love talking about language and form but rarely give an insight into the personal, the everyday life lived. For years this side of things was written off as ‘domestic’ and ‘female’. But how can you truly understand someone’s work without getting under the skin of their daily domestic experience?


Hepworth carvings, work in progress, never finished


The studio


The garden


Despite not being an artist I’ve always longed for a studio. A place to read and think and create. And where better to have one than in southern Cornwall, enclosed by this wild and Pagan landscape and the feeling of being somewhere slightly ‘other’.

Plus there is no chance of ever going hungry here. And so we move to food bingo. Currently there are ten things to tick off:

1. Pasty

2. Cream tea

3. Ice cream

4. Fudge

5. Beer

6. Steak

7. Crab / seafood

8. Fish and chips

9. Pork wrapped in pastry (that’s Matt’s not mine)

10. Fizz

Thus far we’ve crossed off pasty, chips, cream tea, beer. Though I cheated on my pasty and had a – gasp – vegetarian one. Made with ricotta. Outrageous (I couldn’t fault it though).

Cornwall Food Bingo is a long upward struggle. I am at a disadvantage, my capacity for eating at a seriously lower level than Matt’s. But I’ll give it a go. Four down, six to go.