“Eat what is locally abundant” is my ecological mantra, which has led me to the delightful treat of Berkeley Escargot. That’s right, those cute snails devouring your garden are edible. In fact, they were brought here by the French for food and have naturalized here as an exotic pest. The biggest pest in my garden — chomping down little seedlings to stubs and generously helping themselves to my brassicas. What to do? Poisons are definitely out. We can’t poison part of the chain of life without affecting the rest of it. (Consider that and don’t use anti-bacterial soap and sanitizers — but that’s another article). Snail bait is dangerous to birds, dogs and children. Diligent hand picking of snails, especially on wet nights can be quite effective. But then what? Toss them in the neighbor’s yard? Step on them? I believe the highest honor and ecological act is to eat them. (Or feed them to your chickens and ducks if you have them.)
Here’s how I do it. When they get to be too many, I collect them up and put them in a large cardboard box. It’s sort of fun, like an Easter egg hunt — kids love it. You will soon learn the secret, preferred hang outs of these “land clams.” I try to set them up nicely for their last days with some of the plants they were eating, a dish of cornmeal (or similar) and a lid of water. Then I seal off the box well and leave it outside in the shade for 2-3 days. (If the box gets wet, the snails can stage a break-out ). When I come back , I see most of their poop has turned from black to yellow, letting me know they have been enjoying their last corn meal. It is thought that this “purging” is important to remove any toxins and to enhance flavor. I have eaten them without this step and survived but I would definitely do it if your neighbors use poisons.
I then put on a big pot of salted water to boil, then gather into a colander the little dears. I honor and thank them as I quickly rinse and dump them to their quick death by boiling. Being mostly vegetarian, it is a bit difficult, this killing, but I am coming to terms with my role as predator, understanding even its benefit to the prey.
I simmer for 15 minutes to a half hour, let cool and then I process them. It is my excuse to watch a video. I set up with 3 bowls, one to rinse my fingers, one for compost and one for the snail meat. Using a cheap dinner steak knife, I stab the tip into their foot and pull them out of their shell. The University of California pamphlet on snail eating says to remove the black tip of the spiral. After that I rinse them in a colander for some long minutes to remove the slime. They can then be frozen for a special occasion.
Frankly, I haven’t quite enjoyed eating them yet . . . they taste like, well, snails and are kinda slimy. But there have been some mostly successful recipes: Lisa’s French Chowder and the snail cakes were the best. Next I’m going for the deep fried snails. The Snail Dip and the Lasagna weren’t too good but try experimenting with any clam recipe. And explore how they are prepared in the many other countries where they are eaten. Bon appétit.