In spite of attending a primary school that featured a large scallop shell on its badge, the first time I encountered scallops seriously was on BBC TV’s Masterchef programme. A few years ago, as the humble and diminutive seafood exploded in popularity, it felt like almost every other dish on the show was something with scallops – crushed peas and black pudding being among the favourites.
While this tasty shellfish has long been a target for fishermen off the UK coast, it’s only really in the 21st century that it has become such a sought after and popular ingredient. And such has been that meteoric rise to fame that the town of Rye, world famous for its scallops, now devotes an entire week of celebration to the tasty gem.
The first Rye Bay Scallop Week was held in 2003. It has grown in popularity year on year and when the 17th event kicks off on Saturday, 23 February, it will be difficult to move in the beautiful historic town without encountering some sort of scallop related activity.
Putting Rye on the culinary map
As well as special scallop dishes, menus and tastings at numerous pubs and restaurants across the town the event also promises cookery schools and demonstrations, talks, quizzes, live music and more! It’s a fitting tribute to a small and succulent seafood which is of vital significance for the town’s fishing industry and which has definitely played its part in helping to put the town firmly on the culinary map.
Since medieval times, Rye and Rye Bay have been a source for succulent scallops. In 1628, King Charles himself referred to Rye as “the cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish in our house.” The region’s fit-for-a-king seafood is sourced by Rye’s fishing fleet which moors nearly two miles from the sea, but still manages to bring in hundreds of thousands of scallops each year!
But the catch is strictly controlled. Local bye-laws restricting the fishermen to harvesting their scallop catch from 1st November until the 30th April and there are also size restrictions on the catch, leaving the smaller scallops in the water for future years. The beds are checked regularly and allowed to regenerate when necessary.
The festival marks the peak of the scallop season – they’ll be at their best for the next few weeks – and over the week of the festival thousands of scallops will be shucked and sold, from food trucks, market stalls and the many pubs and restaurants which serve the town’s residents and visitors.
As well as being extremely delicious, scallops also owe their recent popularity to their health benefits, too. They are acknowledged as an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12.
For more information on the celebratory festival week and the host of events taking place, visit the festival website Rye Bay Scallop Week 2019