Raising Snails in the Wild West
I have been remiss in posting here on Salty Seattle because I’ve been giving birth to a book. The Nudie Foodies book, that is. If you haven’t heard about it yet, please pop over to the Nudie Foodies website- the book will be available for purchase there on Monday, June 20th and we are looking for a few new nudies to take part in a fun contest involving doing good while nude with food, dudes. Because of all the last minute work that birthing a book entails, I haven’t spent as much time in the kitchen as I would like, but I have been farming snails.
The first time I ate snails I was a vegetarian. I reasoned that they weren’t really animals because they lacked fur, legs and arms. It was in a restaurant in Twin Falls, Idaho called the Sandpiper. This was the place to be if you wanted to shed your BUM Equipment sweatpants (predecessors of the Juicy Couture-style butt-hugging trend) and put on a nice polyester-taffeta blend dress from the Deb Shop in the Magic Valley Mall. Many a prom, engagement and birthday was celebrated at the Sandpiper, which had the basic layout of a Sizzler but lacked the make-your-own-sundae bar. Instead it had a DIY salad bar with fancy dressings like Roquesomething and fancy toppings like alfalfa sprouts that came from an alfalfa sprout farm where I worked my very first job as a sprout seeder and packager when I was 13.
The Sandpiper had exotic things on their menu, many of them French, like the “French” Dip, “French” Onion Soup, and “French”ed Rack of Lamb. They also had “French” escargot, which was the de rigeur thing to order if you were sophisticated enough ever to have escaped the vast Magic Valley desert for a vacation that required you to get on a jet plane. The escargot were served in one of those round clay dishes with little impressions designed to hold each snail along with a lascivious amount of butter and whatever herbs the chef decided to smatter upon the okra-like invertebrates. I popped one into my mouth with very little trepidation- I was always the kid willing to eat a worm for $5 in grade school- and immediately fell in love. I remember that it tasted like buttery, smooth black licorice and the glide of the fat along with the natural viscosity of the snail membrane made for easy eating.
Fast forward to the present: I am still enamored with snails, so much so that I’ve decided to fatten some up from around my garden to the point that they are ready to eat. If you live in Seattle and you have snails to donate to my cause, let me know in the comments section below and I’ll come collect them from your yard.
I made a snail cage in which I’ve been plopping various herbs and vegetable leaves to see what my snail babies prefer to eat. I’ve had the snail farm going for about a month and I have ten snails. I’d like to have more like 40, at which point I will concentrate on growing my little slime-makers big enough as to be bursting with flavor and redolent of the Sandpiper escargots those many years ago.
Is it wrong that I buy my snails expensive purslane at the farmer’s market because they seem to prefer it?
Via the marvelous means of twitter and instagram, I’ve shared some photos of my snail-foraging and farming project and a few friends have taken keen interest. Jon Rowley (@oysterwine on twitter) arranged a lunch meeting with myself and David George Gordon (@thebugchef), author of the snail book The Secret World of Slugs and Snails, and the predominating expert on cooking bugs that taste good. Over lunch, Jon, David and I talked about how famed Seattle-area restaurant, The Herbfarm, had served a menu with banana slugs a few years back. Later I asked Herbfarm owner Ron Zimmerman (@herbguy) about it and he dug up photos and recounted the experience. Kathy Gori (@kathygori) who writes the blog The Colors of Indian Cooking told her friend Paula Wolfert (@soumak) about my snail project. Paula has snail-rearing experience and was kind enough to recommend a book to me, Escargots From Your Garden to Your Table by Francois Picart. My friend Elise Baeur (@simplyrecipes) linked to an article on snail growing recently entitled For the Love of Snails, which I read with great delight.
All this is to say that there is clearly a lot of snail intrigue going on at the moment. Dare I call it a trend? A movement? Let’s hope it’s a movement that lasts and leaves a residual trail in its wake much like the mucous left behind from one of my precious little escargots. In my short span as a snail farmer I have learned several things:
- Snails poop a lot
- Snails hump a lot
- Snails prefer the greens I meant to eat myself rather than the wilted, dodgy ones from last week’s CSA delivery
I will keep you updated as to the progress of the snail farm, and remember, if you want to donate any snails to the cause, just let me know. Happy (snail) Trails!