From local land to The Lifeboat Inn
The time we wait for all year long is finally here, mussels season! Thomas Large supplies The Lifeboat Inn with those delicious mussels that our guests can’t seem to get enough of. Thomas comes from a long line of Brancaster fishermen who have supplied the area with excellent quality shellfish for generations. He is now the 4th generation of his family to grow and harvest mussels. At the age of 16, Thomas became a fisherman and from there on has continued to develop the family business.
We talk to Thomas as he delivers those mouth-wateringly fresh mussels to us, to discover more about the local shellfish that he supplies to The Lifeboat Inn.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I have been a fisherman since the age of 16. Our business has been in the family for 4 generations now, my father showed me the ropes and I eventually took over. I spend most days out of the mussel beds, growing and harvesting the mussels. We are out delivering to our customers almost every day so we’re always kept very busy.
Thomas Large harvesting mussels
Where do you grow the mussels?
We grow the mussels at Norton Creek to the east of Brancaster Staithe. Brancaster Staithe has been home to this industry for more than 100 years and today the village continues to embrace its fishing history with local fishermen growing mussels and oysters on beds out of the harbour. The water where we grow our mussels is so clear and clean. The sea water is graded B and the mussels could be eaten straight from the sea, however we do of course still purify the mussels in clean water on shore.
When is mussel season?
You can buy mussels all around however if you’re buying them in the summer months it is likely that you will have to buy them frozen. September – April is the best time to enjoy fresh mussels.
How long does it take for the mussels to grow?
It takes around two years for the mussels to grow in the water before they are harvested. The mussels grow about 1 inch a year and they are at their best when about 60 mm. Once they are ready we harvest them and fork them into the boat, where we then take them back to shore to purify them.
What time of the year do you begin growing and harvesting?
The seed mussels are hand gathered from the Wash and Brancaster Bay in summer. The mussels are laid down in beds in Brancaster Bay and over a period of 2 years they are nurtured until they are ready for harvesting. We then spend the coldest months of the year in Norfolk waters, harvesting around 3-4 tonnes of mussels every week from the creeks around Brancaster Staithe.
How fresh are the mussels when you deliver them to your customers?
They are as fresh as they could possibly be. We ask our customers to tell us a least 3 days in advance of needing them as this is how long it takes us to harvest and prepare the mussels before being served on your customers’ plate. There is also a lot of factors to consider, my job is very weather dependent and I have to work around the tides.
Can you talk us through the process of growing and harvesting mussels?
First, we find our own mussels to grow, they begin to ‘spawn’ in April. When they have grown to about one inch they are lifted from the breeding beds in the wash and moved into the creeks at Brancaster Harbour. Here they are put into 'lays' to be grown on, which takes around 2 years, from then on we maintain the banks around the beds to ensure the crop is not washed away, and to increase the water flow which is vital to the growth of the mussels because they are filter feeders. They are then harvested from the lays into my boat and brought to where the processing begins which is just 30ft from the sea. The mussels are forked into a riddling machine which grades them for size and washes them at the same time, any smaller ones will fall through and we will not use these. The mussels are then put into 12" trays which are stackable by 5 tray high, these are put in a large stainless-steel tank with is 4ft by 10ft long and is filled with seawater circulating through a filter system and infra-red light to purify for 42 hours. Once this process is done they are ready to be delivered.
The mussels are brought to the shore to purify
Do you find mussels to be popular among your customers?
Yes definitely! We deliver to The Lifeboat Inn around three times a week alone, and then we have other restaurants, fish shops, wholesalers and other trade customers that we supply to. September – April is a very busy time for me.
What is your favourite meal using mussels?
There are so many delicious mussel dishes, I think my favourite though is grilled mussels with garlic butter.