A Snail’s Pace

by Matt on June 4, 2006

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Keeping a garden of herbs and vegetables is one of my greatest
pleasures; keeping that garden grow without the use of pesticides and
chemicals is on my biggest headaches. It doesn’t matter how on top of
things I am, my enemies never fail to secretly invade and set up camp
when I’m not looking. Because of this I can’t grow basil, my cabbage
looks like Swiss cheese and I’m probably the only person I know with
sorrel that looks like lace, elaborate decorative holes and all.

I’ve
done the ladybug thing, and they clearly didn’t find my garden as nice
as I thought they would and they fled. I’ve tried covering certain
plants with protective covering but darn if the pests aren’t creative.
I’ve mixed things bugs don’t like with those that they love, hoping to
put an end to the endless buffet. Nothing worked. I’ve tried bargaining
with them, even telling the snail colony that recently moved in that
I’ll trade them a leafy green if they "leaf" my herbs alone. They
didn’t listen.

Always one to make lemonade out of lemons
(Meyers, thank you very much), I remembered an article I read in SF
Gate about a man named Victor Yool and his penchant for snails. You
see, this man not only loved serving these meaty mollusks to guests,
but he harvested them from his own backyard! BINGO! If my snails were
going to eat my greens then I was going to eat them! It’s a cruel world
indeed.

After some research and a quick chat with a zoologist
acquaintance, I decided to pursue this experiment seriously. I learned
that thanks to an Italian immigrant who came to California 150 years
ago, the common garden snail is actually the edible variety. I had
discovered a goldmind of Helix aspersa in my yard and soon they would be swimming in butter and garlic. And I couldn’t wait.

But
wait I would have to. Even though I refrain from using chemicals and
pesticides in my yard, I couldn’t be assured that my snow poke pests
hadn’t visited a neighbor’s yard and ingested any harmful toxins. I
would have to purge them, a process that involved containing them and
feeding them greens, corn meal and water for a minimum of two weeks.

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Ladies and gentleman, my name is Matt. I am a Snail Wrangler.

For
two weeks I had to endure the gasp of friends and the disgust of my
partner. It turns out that snails creep out quite a bit of people. But
I can’t figure out why. What’s not to love about a slow moving
shapeless blob with movie antennae that leaves behind a trail of slime
and long, black stringy waste? Apparently tons.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead for the sake of culinary experience.

After
my guests had cleaned out their systems they were ready to be
processed. I said a small prayer before dunking my mollusks into
boiling water, shell and all. There are different schools of thought on
what to do here; some methods involve layering snails in coase sea salt
which causes them to disgorge themselves before the boiling process,
but I went straight for a quick kill.

Snail_soup_5

They
cooked for about 10-15 minutes and required a change of water. I also
had to skim off the foam that appears on the surface. Once the foam was
gone I was ready. I rinsed the snails under cool water and used a
small fork to remove the snail from its shell. This was done with a
fine blend of facination and disgust; everything I’ve always wondered
about snail anatomy was slipping around in my hand.

Snail_body

Farming
snails from my garden and then cooking them gave me a crash course in
their anatomy. After a deep breath I decided I didn’t want to consume
their hepatopancreas, an organ that functions similar to a liver and
pancreas in mammals. This is only a personal preference–some escargot
lovers eat the entire thing.

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After
removing the hepatopancreas I chopped up the remaining meat. My shells
weren’t terribly big and I knew I’d never be able to get a whole cooked
snail back in so I opted for a nice chop. Into the pan went butter,
garlic, parsley, white wine, sea salt and my snail meat, long enough to
heat through and cook a small bit of alcohol off. Once done, my snail
bits went back into the shell and back in the oven for a few minutes.
Once done I topped with more parsley and dug in.

Cooked_snail

They
were just as delicious as could be. Sure, there was unnerving snail
foam all over the kitchen. Yes, there was a distinct earthy smell that
hung around from boiling the mollusks, but one taste of that buttery,
garlicky goodness made this science experience rewarding, delicious and
educational.

As far as my garden goes, my basil still may be
half-eaten and my parsley full of holes, but it’s okay. The snails may
have won this battle, but I’m the one with plenty of recipes in my
arsenal.

Disclaimer: You never know where your snails may
have been. Because of this please use caution when eating snails from
your garden. They may have come in contact with pesticides and you do
not want to ingest that.