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It’s Mussel Season, or is it?

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So, it’s winter and that means mussels, lovely sea mussels. Grilled mussels, mussels in wine sauce, stuffed mussels, mussels with linguini, pickled mussels, oh my ...

And, those of you fortunate enough to live by the coast, you can have the added delight of collection your own. What a great idea for a “stay-cation.” Pack the gear you need; buckets, claw hammers or tire irons or crow bars, blankets, a picnic lunch, perhaps some beer and head to the beach. You might want to bring along a change of close and be sure to wear a pair of old sneakers. You will definitely want something on your feet, but they are going to get wet, so wear something you don’t care about. Oh, you might also want to bring along some firewood. What’s a picnic at the beach without a bone fire and there just might not be any driftwood. Also, you might want to steam or roast some of the mussels right there at the beach.

Now, as grand as this all sounds, I beg you to take head and read the next part VERY carefully. There are lots of myths, yes, myths about when it is safe to gather mussels. Some say they are safe unless there is a red tide. Others say they are safe if gathered at high tide, and of course there’s the old legend that you should gather them only in months that have an “R,” or is it a month without an “R?”

The truth of the matter is, FORGET ALL OF THE ABOVE! If you live in California and plan to collect the Pacific Coast Sea Mussel, NEVER, and I repeat, NEVER go harvesting without calling the SHELL FISH TOXIN HOTLINE FIRST! That number is 1-800-448-2474.

Mussel become toxic when they ingest a marine plankton called Dinoflagellate. This little critter lives in a sludge at the bottom of the sea and only comes to the surface where the mussels may get it when there is great under water turbulence. Now, in most of the rest of the world, this only happens occasionally and is known as The Red Tide.

In California it happens EVERY, let me repeat that, EVERY YEAR. You see, every summer the cold Alaskan sweeps down the coast of Northern California and meets with the warmer southern current. When this happens, it causes great turbulence at the bottom of the sea which brings the Dinoflagellates to the surface, the mussels ingest them and become toxic.

The length of the season when mussels are toxic can vary from year to year, so do not depend on any rule of thumb myths. ALWAYS call the shell fish toxin hotline, 1-800-448-2474, to see if the season is on or off.

Now, here’s another myth. Eating mussels in the off season does not make you sick – it makes you dead. The toxin is a paralyses, and what actually happens is you suffocate because you are paralyzed and can’t breath. Now, the toxin breaks down after about 72 hours, so, if you can be gotten to an iron lung or similar medical device, you will survive.

The symptoms can resemble both intoxication and heart attack.

Now, please, don’t let me scare you off. Sea mussels are delectable and harvesting your own is a worthy pass time and as I mentioned before, a great stay-cation, but please, just follow that one rule and it is safe and enjoyable. A trip to the coast is always a worthy occupation.

For some excellent recipes and additional information visit Musseling In, on my website, The Questing Feast.

You may read more of my work and find a lot more recipes and information on my website,The Questing Feast

And, you may now listen to me on KGGV the Bridge, 95.1 FM, lp or streaming world wide at KGGV the Bridge.

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