Collecting Cockles: A Galician Women’s Tradition

Reader Contribution by Leila And Anthony and The Recipe Hunters
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An hour into our first road trip to hunt down traditional recipes on the western coast of Galicia, we strike gastronomic gold in the form of Galician cockles, locally known as berberechos.

Upon descending a winding road which hugs the hillside slopes of Muros y Noia, we come upon 100 individuals bobbing up and down in the bay water near the seashore. We park the car below the pines, take off our sneakers, roll up our jeans and head into the low tide. About 200 meters out, we realize that the floating individuals are all women and they are raking the seashore for cockles.

Within 5 minutes of entering the water, we have a group of Galician women teaching us the tricks of their trade: how to hold and drag the rake, how to identify if the cockle is big enough for harvesting, and how to keep your bucket from falling over. When we ask how to cook the cockles (hoping for an invite into a local’s kitchen and a traditional recipe) a husky woman with a hearty chuckle and whole-hearted grin, grabs two cockles in her hand and uses one to pop the other open. She plops the naked, squirming mollusk in her open hand and says we either steam them or eat them raw…with a wink she pops one into in her mouth and we follow her lead.

In Galicia, the fisherwomen, aka mariscadores, have been harvesting berberechos for generations and generations. Traditionally, the men in this region would spend their days fishing in the deep ocean in boats while the women would stay on the shores to collect the clams and cockles. Berberechos is considered a predominately matriarchal trade which is handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter. Throughout various times of the year, these women venture to different parts of the coastline raking away until they fill their buckets with berberechos. They then rush over to the weighing station to sell their berberechos before the daily quota is met! 

What Exactly is a Cockle?

Cockles are tiny, edible bivalve mollusks which are found in regions throughout the world. In the USA, we would consider a cockle a type of clam — they are bilaterally symmetrical, heart shaped when viewed from the end, only grow in salt water, and are part of the Cardiidae family. The Galician government intends to help maintain the Cockle harvesting tradition by conserving the cockles through sustainable regulations. The local government has size limits, daily collection limits, and continually tests the water for toxicity levels.

Check out our short film to experience the cockle harvest with The Recipe Hunters in Galicia!

Leila and Anthony are The Recipe Hunters. They travel the world in search for age-old, traditional recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation. On their travels, they volunteer on organic farms, small homesteads, and family farms, where they learn about sustainable agriculture. In May 2015, Leila and Anthony cofounded Culinary Heritage Corporation, a nonprofit with the mission to promote culture through food. Follow The Recipe Hunters of Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.

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