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Slow Food - an Escargot Experiment

snails snails snails

There comes a time when every gardener asks the question, "is this escargot? Can I eat this garden snail who eats my lettuce?" And then most gardeners are repulsed by the thought and try to put it out of their mind. The answer I found some years ago is yes, they are indeed edible. I think it was in my mid-twenties that I first attempted a homegrown escargot experiment, though after keeping them in a terrarium with cornmeal for a week, I got grossed out and fed the whole mess to the ducks.

This spring when the rains brought a batch of snails out in my chard patch, I decided to try again. This time, armed with the power of internet, I did some research to be sure it would be a safe experiment, rather than rely on hearsay alone. The important things to do are: cleaning them, inside and out, with a controlled diet, then purging them and getting them to dry out by making them fast.

In the evening, when the snails are active, collect them. Because of the amount of work that goes into this culinary project, even a dozen snails turns out to not be a lot of food. Collect a couple dozen or more. Be sure you haven't left snail bait out for them before you do this; remember, you are eating them instead of poisoning them. Though the purging process will remove anything harmful they've eaten, plant matter or otherwise.

escargot makings

Use a large container with holes punched in the top or tightly covered with breathable cloth (they are escape artists and can quickly cover a surprisingly great distance across your kitchen despite their reputation of slowness). I used a gallon-size glass jar, but a glass terrarium, lidded bowl, bucket, or anything that will keep them contained will work.

I used a glass of water to act as a vase to hold fresh chard and parsley. Cucumber, fennel, or lettuce is also used. In addition to greenery, I added a pile of corn meal at the bottom of the jar. Some people use cornmeal alone.corn meal The cornmeal feeds them and is an effective internal scrubber, cleansing their digestive tract. You'll see the dietary transition in the drastic color change of their long curly poops.

Every couple days, I washed out the container, rinsed and/or replenished the greenery, and added fresh water. After a week I removed the greenery and left them with just cornmeal and a shallow dish of water to be sure they were all eating only cornmeal and getting throughly cleaned. After a few more days, I removed the corn and water, washed them and the jar, and put them back for a fast of a few last days. At this point, some people put the snails in a wood crate or canvas bag which they hang in a dry place. This further dries their slime production. I read that when the snail has retreated into it's shell and sealed itself in with a dry crust, it is ready to cook. I, however, did not wait for that point, and many instructions online do not mention it. I wondered at meal time, however, if they would have turned out less slimy if I had taken that step.

escargot jar

After a total of two weeks, it was dinner time (slow food indeed!). While bringing a pot of water to boil, we washed the snails and put them in a metal sieve, then dunked them in the boiling water, stired them around for one minute, rinsed them with cold water, and removed them from their shells. If they are large and have dense shells, they can be pulled out of the shell easily with a small sharp pronged implement such as an escargot fork or pickle fork. Smaller snails or those with delicate shells will break apart. Rinse well to remove shell pieces and slime.

washing a snail

Lightly sauté diced garlic in butter; add white wine, thyme, salt, and pepper; bring back to bubbling and add the snails; cook well.

escargot frying

I added chopped fresh parsley after removing the snails from the heat and we ate it atop French bread (of course!) though I've come across recipes online for turning them into filling for stuffed mushrooms, or returning them to the larger shells or purchased decorative shells, topping them with cheese and baking. I thought it was particularly appropriate to eat them as an appetizer before fresh greens: lettuces, baby chard, borage and calendula flower salads... things from my garden that the pests would have been munching on if I hadn't eaten the little guys/gals first.

escargot meal

Overall, the experiment was a success (my brave boyfriend and I survived and were nourished by their proteins) but the amount of effort it took to make a tiny serving didn't seem worth it. I'm conscious of the imbalance that can happen in a vegetable/flower/herb garden ecosystem when animals are not allowed in. I don't think it's the best method to poison pests and would rather utilize them. Chickens and ducks make great use of snails, slugs, and insects, converting their proteins into meat and eggs that are more efficient for me to collect and cook.... and I think I'll leave it to the poultry.


Snails really are such creepy, gross, and beautifully fascinating creatures!


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