Sunday, 6 May 2007

Food In The Garden, Revisited

Warning to the squeamish or vegetarian - look away now, before you get upset by what follows the pretty leaves and colourful flowers...

A few weeks after I started blogging, in September 2006, I posted a piece entitled Food In The Garden.

Nasturtiums growing outside my bedroom windowWhat aroused my interest at the time was the realisation that the flowering "weeds" growing outside my bedroom window were nasturtium, a type of giant cress brought to Europe from its native Peru by the Spanish conquistadors. Nasturtium leaves are edible as a salad and the pickled unripe fruits make a good substitute for capers.

Subsequently I discovered many other edible plants in my Hackney garden, including nettles (excellent for making soup) and dandelion (recently blogged about by Pim and Vanessa, amongst others).

But when I went out into the garden to collect food last Saturday, my mission was not for vegetation. I had been tasked by my college lecturer Mrs. Godfrey to collect some food to be served as amuse bouches in my college fine dining restaurant, The Escoffier Room. No ordinary "bend down and pick it up" garden food this. A crafty little adversary with a knack for disguise, nocturnal habits and a liking for dark and moist out-of-the-way hiding places.

A monster in my garden
Whereas I might once have been wary of the prospect of anyone consuming gastropod molluscs gathered from a Hackney garden, I was fully wised up having read Scott's excellent post of a few weeks ago.

Snails love a cold shower and a bit of juicy carrotI already knew about purging molluscs by feeding them with oats, but Mrs. Godfrey taught me a clever trick here. By feeding the snails on pieces of carrot, you provide a handy colour marker by which to check whether or not their digestive tracts have been thoroughly purged. Clever, eh?

Despite dire warnings on several websites that anything up to a fortnight might be required to ensure that they were free of toxins, three days turned out to be quite adequate.

By Tuesday morning, refreshed with a cold water spray and a good clean-out each day, my little friends were ready for the trip across London to Victoria and their lunch duties.

Chilled in the fridge and then plunged into boiling waterWith the snails in my college kitchen and eagerly awaiting release from their tupperware container, they were almost ready for the table. But before any mollusc munching was to take place, my little garden friends would go through two cooking stages.

The first stage involved getting a pan of boiling water on the go. Simply dropped into the boiling water and left for seven to eight minutes, the snails were sufficiently tenderised for the second stage - sautéing.

By this point my mobile home occupants weren't at all fussy and a simple preparation involving crispy pancetta, minced garlic, a knob of butter and a pinch of roughly chopped parsley was all these guys required to attain a state of grace.

A fitting end for a noble creatureWe served them to the restaurant customers, with a piece of frisée lettuce, on little Chinese soup spoons laid out on dinky little underplates. From the feedback we gathered from front of house it was clear that every customer had enjoyed them, or at least had tried them before declaring that it wasn't really their cup of tea. Success!

Sorry about the photo quality. I didn't have my camera handy, so I had to use my mobile phone. But only to take the picture of a snail - not for a chat.

Because, as with some rather more famous molluscs, my little friends were by now in no condition to answer a phone call:

Favourite bedtime reading when I was very young"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Snails," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.


(With apologies to Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.)

13 comments:

Mallika said...

Ah vicious world. The snails in my front garden are quite pleased I am not a) French and b) a trainee chef.

Were they delicious?

Julia said...

Nooooooo.......not you as well. Enough with the garden snails!!!Eeek....

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Great to see someone taking advantage of nature's free larder.

Anything that eats my wild rocket is fair game in my opinion.

Ben said...

Slugs too? Is there any reason why we eat snails but not their "Big Issue" cousins?

Trig said...

Mallika - I tried them once when I was younger but didn't like them at all. I did try one this time and I'm afraid my taste hasn't changed.

Julia - So you're not a fan either...

Scott - I love wild rocket, but like snails it really is an acquired taste. Do you harvest the rocket quite often or save it for special occasions?

Ben - Apparently there are some varities of "sea slug" that are edible and are eaten by humans (sea cucumbers etc.)

I just looked it up on google and found a story of a young man who died after swallowing a land slug alive for a bet with his drinking mates. It wasn't the slug as such that killed him but the parasitic rat lungworms that it was infested with.

So depending on how you define a "slug", the answer to your question is yes and no

Little Foodie said...

Being a novice I can't work out how I missed this when I checked in earlier. I'm starting to feel like a granny (sorry grandmas). Anyway superb post, snails I can handle, enjoy even after a few glasses of wine, but not slugs! Also loved your 2 May post 'We live in a beautiful world' My children don't know what the golden arches stand for and if they see Ronald they ask who he is.
Amanda

Scott at Real Epicurean said...

Trig: Often. Has to be, else it grows very woody. Regular harvesting encourages the growth of fresh young leaves and means there's not loads of old leaves on the plant.

ros said...

I always order snails if I see them on a restaurant menu but until Scott (and now you) cooked them, I wouldn't have even thought to go looking for them.

Sadly, I don't have a garden. Perhaps next time I go to my parents I can find some. But, then again, Dad stopped talking to me for a couple of days when I cooked mussels (even tried to pay me off to save them :s ) so I'd never get away with it.

Mae said...

What a strange co-incidence! I've just come in from the garden where i squished a snail! Oooops! Not deliberately, of course...

They love my bamboo plant - i often shake the tree and they come falling! Some do end up thrown on the other side of the garden whilst some, end up being squished.

I still can't get my head around them being edible.

I have tried the African snails [they're huge!]. In West Africa, they make a soup or stew out of them. You can find them in Balham or Tooting [where they sell West African goods]. If you're game, you ought to try them! :)

Trig said...

Scott - Of course, how silly of me. Now you've said that it seems bloody obvious!

Ros - Why was your dad so against you cooking mussels? Is it only because they're alive before you cook them? That does seem a bit odd, I mean it is essential with most shellfish

Mae - I'd certainly give them a try, after all you only live once. Next time I'm passing through South London I may well investigate. Cheers for the heads up!

ros said...

Yes, it is indeed because they're alive when you cook them. Dad's weird like that. He's bothered by animals getting eaten. He is a vegetarian though, so not totally inconsistent.

Trig said...

Oh dear, I'm afraid my next post may be a problem for your dad then, Ros!

Elise said...

Oh Trig, you are a brave man! I so love escargot, but I do have the hardest time thinking of my garden pests as food.


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