Old Leigh is a great place and a first stop any time I visit the town. It has great old pubs and of course the cockle sheds, the most famous of which is Osborne's across the street from the best pub there, the Crooked Billet. Really what could be better than a pint and some local cockles, whelks or oysters? My mum and dad used to bring my brother Jan and I here when we were young. In those days you'd also eat the mussels but now the local mussels have some bacteria and are a health hazard so those on sale are imported from Chile.
Jan had told us of this event and we'd promptly advised our Bermuda friends Keith and Judy as well as the friends we were staying with, Kevin and Gill, who needed no second invitation to come down for the event too. Jan suggested that we should all enter the cockle eating competition -- something he'd won a year or so back and which involved eating a pint glass filled with cockles as fast as possible. He said that his son Rupert would take part whilst his daughters, Zophia and Gabriella, would be on hand to film the event and provide moral and other support. This was a real treat as we don't see anywhere near as much of our nephew and nieces as we'd like.
|Rupert, Jan, Me, Gabriella, Zophia|
The intent was to turn up around 12 noon, ease into things with a pint or so and some palate opening plates of shellfish before facing the main event.
Interestingly none of Jan's children had ever tried oysters before -- and having eaten some with Jan a short while before and seen how many he could hoover away, this was not surprising. I imagine there'd be none left for the children! So first order of the day was to rectify that. The oysters weren't Southend oysters, but they were Essex oysters -- from Maldon in fact which is just up the coast.
|Gabsy's first oyster experience|
They were really nice too and I felt opened the palate nicely.
Preliminaries over the next step was the coconut shy that Gabriella apparently always insisted on trying out each year. I hadn't done this for years but Gabriella showed uncanny skill and combined with Rupert managed to snag the cuddly toy of her dreams!
|Looking for the cuddly toy|
The event itself was a highpoint for the regatta and had 6 entrants -- 3 of us (Jan, Rupert and myself) and 3 others (2 no hopers and last year's champion). The idea was to eat a pint glass filled with cockles as fast as possible.
|Ready, Get Set…|
They were horrible. With no seasoning allowed, you relied on the taste of the cockle itself. They are tasteless without seasoning and felt like chewy, sinewy, things. I could barely manage a couple of mouthfuls but the champ and Jan's technique was the way to go: open the gullet and pour. By the time the champ had finished both my cheeks were stuffed full of an undigested mass of part chewed cockles that I surreptitiously returned to the pint glass -- Rupert had had the same problem with the cockles and did the same.
|"How do you swallow these things?"|
But it was all good fun and a great day out with family and friends.
Next time I'll bring my own seasoning!