This Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, we traveled up the coast from San Francisco 50 miles or so, stepped down a muddy decline of clay and rock, and foraged for mussels at low-tide (2:14 pm), under a bright winter sky. The pristine location is called Miwok Beach, named for the Coast Miwok Indian Tribe who historically made their home in what is now known as Bodega Bay.
Perhaps most amazing about the mussel gathering and preparation process is the act itself: so simple and essential. Standing on a slippery rock, prying these hard, barnacle-speckled mollusks loose with the point of a flat-head screwdriver, one gets the feeling that they are part of a continuum.
As our buckets filled, the tide rose and swirled around the rocks, protecting mussel enclaves that were exposed just an hour before.
An internet search reveals that humans have been excavating and eating these sea creatures for an estimated 13,000 years.
We collected about 130 mussels in all: two large buckets full, to feed about 12 people.
Some were as large as a human palm, some had mysterious fleshy organisms protruding from a tight shell. Others appeared to be breathing.
After we “de-bearded” them as best as we could – ripping any fibrous bits from the shell with plumber’s pliers, we collected the mussels in a pot of ocean water.
Then it was on to the open bonfire.
The heat steamed them open, exposing a bright orange meat that we dipped in melted butter and ate with french bread and wine.