A Different Look at Snails

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Gardeners and snails have long been at odds. Here is a very French way of tackling the problem.

The Grumpy Gardener – The Inlaws Use Chili Sauce on The Outlaws.

The Grumpy Gardener – May

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander

In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander notes that mixing tomatoes and chili sauce with the common-or-garden snail is far better than the poisoning, crushing and trapping most of us indulge in.

It may be a common--or-garden snail but its on the French menu (Credit Mike Alexander)

We live in times where gardeners are more than ever aware of the impact they have on the environment and for the most part the more conscientious among us try to cause as little degradation as possible. For many however, green peace accords go out of the window when it comes to that universal enemy, the snail. We poison, trap, drown and crush these bodacious pests without batting an eyelid or turning a hair (or any other more appropriate cliché). Snails after all are the great unloved outlaws of our gardens.

Recently the in-laws, namely my wife’s uncle and aunt came to visit and I was most flattered when TonTon and TaTa announced they would like a tour of my garden. For a brief moment I got quite excited as I saw them apparently paying great attention to my efforts. We gardeners don’t get much attention generally, so we tend to become rather overenthusiastic when any is lavished on our gardens. My moment in the sun was short-lived however once I realised they were not really interested in my plants, my herbaceous borders, my flowering shrubs or my award -winning design capabilities. They were searching for snails which, as they found them, they gathered up and placed in a carrier bag.

Now I don’t hold possessive tendencies about my snails and if my in-laws should feel a need to drop by and start appropriating them I am more than happy to step aside and let them garner as many as they can lay their hands on.

I am not talking about the famous escargot de Bourgogne so dearly beloved of French snail connoisseurs and now quite rare. (See here for more on France and snails). Indeed these were not even gros gris which is the snail you are most likely to come across in most restaurants or supermarkets. These were just your plain old common-or-garden snail (Helix aspersa) though I opted not to point this out to TonTon and TaTa until they had finished their harvest as I certainly did not want to distract them.

When they did finally finish my conscience got the better of me so I gently pointed out their error. They however, being French, were fully aware of the gastronomic relevance of the snails they had gathered and assured me they would make a delicious meal when properly garnished with tomatoes and chili sauce.

Suddenly I began to see TonTon and TaTa in a whole new light. These were no longer just my visiting in-laws standing in front of me with their carrier bag of goodies. This was a business opportunity just waiting to be properly exploited.

Already I could see myself hiring them out to fellow gardeners or perhaps renting them to a large chateau for snail blitzkriegs. I could run the admin and marketing side of things and pay them in snails. What’s more there was room for expansion. Surely the leap from eating snails to eating slugs is just a small one. And why should it end there? I could research the toxicity levels of lily beetle or at a later stage perhaps, introduce the subject of rose Schaefer crisps (See red wine and scorpions here).

Of course, like so many of my best business plans, this one never got off the ground. My darling wife torpedoed it before it even had a chance to fully mature, threatening to torpedo me at the same time. I still think it’s a great idea though. Maybe one day TonTon and I can sneak off for a little man to man snail chat.

For those of you who are not too squeamish the possibility of eating your snails as a way of wreaking revenge for all the damage they have done to your hostas or lettuce seedlings must surely be a welcome prospect. They are perfectly edible though first bear in mind one or two precautions: never eat a dead snail; harvested snails should be kept in a non air-tight container for four to five days before your banquet and fed flour to clean out any toxic impurities; they must be very thoroughly cooked before eating. (See TaTa’s recipe below) Finally when gathering snails, even our common-or-garden adversaries, remember there is a season which must be respected (I kid you not)! Normally this opens around the July 1 though the date may vary regionally.

When the Outlaws meet the Inlaws it helps to have some chili sauce around (Credit Wikipedia)

TaTa’s Piquant Escargot Recipe

Harvest 1 kilo of snails, place in a box that is not air tight and sprinkle the inside with flour. Leave for four to five days allowing time for the snails to purge themselves. Add more flour if necessary.

Fry an onion.
Add a can of peeled tomatoes.
Add a bouquet garni.
Add one hot red chili.
Cook for a further 10 mins.
Add a glass of white wine and simmer for thirty minutes during which time boil a saucepan of salted water with a chopped onion, thyme, bay leaf and parsley.
Wash and rinse the snails in water and vinegar then add them to the boiling water for thirty minutes. Drain and add to the tomato sauce, mix well and cook for a further thirty minutes.
Serve with bread as a starter.

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