Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Mother of the Sea


Kathleen Drew, the first president of the 
British Phycological Society.

The Japanese love affair with nori is well known, if only through sushi, but the Japanese affection for the British phycologist, Dr Kathleen Mary Drew Baker (1901-57) is probably less widely recognised. In Japan, Kathleen Drew (Baker was her married name) is known as Mother of the Sea. After researching laver, a British seaweed akin (but not the same as) to nori, Baker published a very brief note in the 1949 journal  Nature’ titled, ‘Conchocelis phase in the life history of Porphyra umbilicalis’; it was described as 100 lines that should change the world (Michanek 1996). This is because Kathleen Drew identified the missing link in the life cycle of porphyra. Heteromorphy is the alteration of generations, which means that in the case of porphyra it takes on different appearances during its life cycle. In 1948 a series of typhoons led to the collapse of Japan’s production of nori and many famers lost their livilhood. Prior to Drew’s discovery porphyra life stages were thought to be two different species. Kathleen Drew’s research changed the way that nori was cultivated and resulted in a guaranteed harvest.  Japanese scientists built on Drew’s research to develop the nori industry.Previously the nori harvest varied and as a consequence, the seaweed was known as ‘Gamblers’ Grass.’ Grateful nori farmers contributed posthumously to a statue in Kathleen Drew’s honour, and each year on April 14th   (Drew’s birthday) in Sumiyoshi Shrine Park, Osaka, nori farmers celebrate the Drew Festival. Today, (April 14th) the park will be decorated with flowers and visited by leaders in the Nori industry.  The demand for nori increased after the Second World War, resulting in improved farming techniques and nori becoming the largest aquamarine industry in Japan.
                      Laver, Kildonan, Isle of South Uist

Laver is found on the middle shore on beaches around Britain. It resembles black plastic firmly clad to a rock. Cut the seaweed with scissors and wash it very well. It retains sand and harbours seaside dwellers. Dry the seaweed and use to enhance flavour (it is a mild seaweed) and thicken. There are lots of  recipe ideas in Seaweed in the Kitchen

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