June 25, 2012

Snails for Supper

The time has come to experiment with a free source of protein that exists in abundance on our farm – snails. We all know the French treat the humble snail as a delicacy, yet few of us northern Europeans actually go as far as trying them (let alone cooking them ourselves). I tried snails once about fifteen years ago in the Pyrenees. They tasted okay (as long as I didn't look at them) and I can imagine with the right sauce they could enter the league of mussels, perhaps.

It has to be worth a try! We collect over sixty 'Weinbergschnecken' (a really large variety of snail) and put them in our largest pan with a handful of iceberg lettuce. With a rock on the lid and a thin stick jammed between to allow in some air, they wallow in the pan for three days, munching lettuce. Apparently this is the length of time needed to clean out their systems, which is clearly visible after the first couple of days - their deposits turn from black to vivid green.

On Sundays we do our utmost to have a day off and this time manage to get out to a nearby lake for the afternoon. By the time we get back we are starving. The menu has to be snails (whether we relish the idea or not!) as their three days are up and if we don't do it now, we never will.

First we tumble them into a pan of boiling, salted water (with garlic, spices and fresh herbs) and cook them for a good few minutes. Then we ease each snail out of its' shell using a skewer, revealing a perfectly formed spiral. Rolled in flour and doused in beer batter they are then deep fried to a golden brown. They look fantastic. Served with buttery mashed potato they could well be part of any Tapas menu.

Maia happily gives them a go, and even seems to like them! Without the idea of snail in your mind, I imagine they could be quite enjoyable. I have to take a deep breath before going for it: the spiral end tastes tender with a texture a bit like squid, but sadly I cannot ignore the trace of slime still lingering. Three are plenty for an experiment! The boys try many more, determined to find the best way of processing them - boiled in a white wine broth, grilled directly over the fire...

It is possible that with a lot more rinsing and longer cooking, they could be much more palatable. In the end it is worth the effort if only to discover that we would much rather rear our own protein with four legs. A slightly queasy feeling lingers even now, a day later...

Whilst keeping an attentive eye out for the lime flowers to emerge on our three linden trees (the flowers only appear for a very brief time) I begin to give the walnuts some attention. They are ripening now into oval shaped fruits that look a lot like olives.

We harvest a small batch to begin experiments with pickling. Pricking each hull a couple of times with a pin has left a dark brown stain on my fingers. (Walnut dye is very strong and resists a lot of wear and light. Infused oil was once commonly used as a tanning lotion).

Covered in a salt brine for the last few days, the liquid is now black and there is a distinct olive quality to the fruits. Once pickled, they can be used much in the same way as olives – delicious sliced thinly onto pizza, chopped into salads and added to sauces and stews.

Today we will harvest in earnest. With a good crop and sound techniques, this could well be the delicacy for a niche market...

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com

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