The Ultimate Slow Food
The positivity principle of Bill Mollison permaculture, though I know it to be true makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it. ‘The problem is the solution!’ I just wish he could have coined a less smug sounding phrase, (sorry I know it’s my own problem…) anyway putting this principle into practice I have decided to do something about my snail ‘solution…’ Currently, I come out to check my seedling too late and the snails have gotten there first. I don’t want to put down poison and hurling them over the neighbour’s fence just isn’t the ethical solution. So, I’ve decided I’m going to collect them and actually eat them myself!!!
I’m not squeamish about eating different stuff but snails have never really been my thing. My wife regularly has them as a first choice starter, in fact, my first ever try of a snail was from her plate.
Years ago I’d heard that in true French style snails are very amorous and make love for hours at a time and true enough, since I have been in this house, I regular go outside and find them getting jiggy with it on my patio, in fact, I regularly find what seems to be snail orgies going on, perhaps South African snails have a different kink.
All my younger life, I grew up thinking that escargot was actually some special species of un-poisonous snail and the ones in my garden were of the poisonous variety, but it seem the common species of garden snail, the Helix Aspera Aspera so plentiful in Zone 1 after a good rain is considered a delicacy by the French. They call them le petit gris… funny everything sounds delicious in French.
Those of you who are squeamish in regards to eating such a creature should consider this: snails are low in fat, high in protein and rich in minerals, including calcium and zinc. Each full grown snail comes in at a fighting weight of around 10g of solid muscle (…and a shell) so around a dozen equals a good sized starter serving. Veteran celebrity chef Raymond Blanc laments on childhood times of collecting hundreds of snails that were then lovingly prepared by his mother for his families table.
With preparation in mind, it must be remembered snails need to be purged before eating. Their guts must be emptied by starving them for two to three days, (ensuring they still have water.) This means there will be no residue from any poisons plants left inside them that they may have eaten. The snail will often eat things like ivy which would be poisonous to us and make us sick; enough to put anyone off eating a snail from their own garden again.
In roman time the snails were fed on wine and bran in their final hours and I’m wondering if that gave them a better taste? The French feed the snails on a dry mix which is supposed to reduce the squidgy poo they produce but now I’m going more into, raising your own snails, which is something I’m also considering.
I do not want to put you off but I do feel it necessary to give a note of caution, it is important to mention that you need to properly cook snails before you consume them, even if they are purchased from a reputable source. The failure to do so can result in parasites entering the human body, which have been linked to the development of meningitis. The failure to cook them properly can result in people becoming very ill. When you buy or harvest snails to cook and eat you need to prepare them well done, so if the parasite is present it will be killed.
How to cook and serve your snails
Once your snails are purged, rinse the live snails thoroughly in water and drain.
To kill your snails plunge them into salted boiling water (Sorry if you don’t like the sound of this but fresh snails do actually have to die for you to eat them and frankly this is the quickest and most humane way to do it, this ensures they are swiftly dispatched) then simmer for 15 minutes.
Drain, then rinse again with cold water.
Using a skewer in a simple twisting motion remove the snail from its shell trying to keep all the flesh intact.
Now cook to taste, with butter and garlic on a moderate heat for a few minutes.
Finely chopped parsley can be sprinkled on top as the traditional flavouring but thyme and chives are also good. Add a little salt and pepper and cook gently for another few minutes.
Remove snails from pan and put into a heatproof dish.
Sprinkle with a few bread crumbs.
Pour the melted butter from your pot and grate over a little cheese.
Brown under a moderate grill until cheese bubbles.
Snails are now ready… Serve Hot!
With thoughts of delicious garlic snails in mind, you might also consider rearing your own and it seems that doing this is really quite easy. Enclose them in a nice damp place so they can’t escape, this might need a little bit of thinking about as snail can be enthusiastic escapologists, and make sure there is plenty of shade. Perhaps grow some snail friendly vegetation for them to eat inside. A French recipe for snail feed, however, is: 400g wheat flour, 300g ground beans, 300g powdered chalk or you can go online to find snail feed company’s (eg. www.alimentation-escargots.fr/index-gb.htm, however, for this site you will need to read a little French.)
I do encourage you to try harvesting and eating snails from your own garden, whether foraging or rearing, as ‘the problem is always the solution’ but if this is something you just can’t do remember your chickens will make a fine meal of them, really appreciating the protein.