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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.