It has come to my attention that some of you are not receiving A Small Village in France. There has been a problem with the “publishing” system and many of you were dropped from the mailing list. If you would like to rejoin you will need to go back to www.asmallvillageinfrance.blogspot.com and sign up in the “enter your address here” box. I apologize for this, but do so hope you will come back to the world of Bourdeilles, France. You can ignore this request if you are continuing to receive the blog. Thank you! Happy trails! All my best, Susan V
I had no idea when I woke up on Sunday morning that it was going to be Snail Day.
There are always snails everywhere in our yard. Big ancient looking things. I have gotten used to them, but they used to seem so curious and exotic, yucky and ancient. Now they are just sort of a random nuisance.
This past Sunday morning the sun had not even risen when I was forced to think about snails. I was walking the puppy in the dark of the morning and underfoot was a familiar, occassional, and gruesome crack and squish-- snail massacre! This mini-horror show comes with a very unpleasant sound, a disgusting feel underfoot, and a pang of guilt for taking the life of these seemingly pathetic creatures. (Most people think that snails keep changing their shells, but recently we learned that the shell grows with them for an average of 5 years and once the shell is broken the creature will die.) (And, believe it or not, people eat these slimy things! --Editor’s notes are in italics)
Then, as I was hanging my pajamas up for the day, I found a teeny tiny snail that had managed to slink its way down the back hallway and halfway up the bedroom door. It’s one thing to squish a snail outside, but what if I had stomped on it on the oriental!
|Silvery slime trails.|
The day was moving on and we were sitting around the lunch time table and snails came up again. The first story was about the “old days” that were spent with an ancient uncle who would gather up 4 or 5 snails, give them a cursory rinse, sprinkle some salt on them and eat them washed down with his homemade wine. Even for a Frenchman this way of eating a snail was a bit too raw. The next memory was about a grandfather that would take the grandchildren on snail hunts, each youngster carried a basket that they were expected to fill up before returning home. The container in which they collected the snails had to have tiny holes or the snails would drown in their own drool and one had to be vigilant that they did not escape over the sides. (Who would think to eat something that is capable of drowning in it’s own drool?) Once back home all of the snails were tightly enclosed in a cheesecloth pouch and hung from a hook over a bucket. The next morning the bucket would have several cups worth of snail drool (The mini-horror show tsunami! ). Now for the best part - the grandchildren had to drink that drool to keep away coughs. (Finally, a reason to appreciate cod liver oil!)
After a enjoyable evening out we were returning home after dark and were startled to see three people on the edge of the road with a flashlight. It popped into my head that they were out searching for snails. Sure enough a mom and dad and their son were out gathering a delicious delicacy for two or three weeks from now. That’s how long it takes to get snails to be escargot! Their flashlights scanned the moist roadside ditches and into rocky crevasses. I invited them up to our terrace to gather their prey from our snail hatchery. The hatchery was inadvertently created when a tile that Tom made was placed in the garden. The snails love the cool, moist, clay, backing close by to all the things they love, dirt, rocks and my hostas!!
I was glad someone was going to appreciate those big slimy snails as I can assure you Tom and I are never going to eat them. No amount of garlic or delicious bread crumbs are going to get us to be that French!
Here’s an idea of the work that goes into preparing this delicacy:
Preparation And De-sliming
Three days before feast day, withhold food but not water (or wine) to let the snails finish digesting their last meal. At the end of this fasting period, rinse snails thoroughly in cool water and discard any that don't peek out of their shells. To deslime: Cover the snails with water combined with two tablespoons of salt and one tablespoon of vinegar per dozen snails. Soak the snails until they release all their slime, which takes about four hours. To speed things up, change the solution several times. Rinse the snails well, cover them with water (some cooks add a splash of lemon juice here), bring the water to a boil, and simmer 10 minutes. Cool the snails and remove the meat from the shells.
Garden snails often have thin shells that shatter easily, making it difficult to follow the traditional practice of returning them to their own shells for baking. You can strengthen the shells during the 10-day feeding period by supplying a calcium supplement, such as crushed oyster shell of the sort fed to laying hens for the same reason. Alternatively, discard the shells in favor of reusable gros blanc shells, sold by import shops as coquilles. Because coquilles are often larger than the shells your snails came in, stuff each one with two snails. (To save the coquilles for reuse, wash them in soapy water. Cover them with fresh water to which a pinch of baking soda has been added, bring the water to a boil, rinse the shells, and drain them dry before storing.)
To remove fragile shells from your garden snails, crush the shells between your fingers and peel away the shards. (Oh, the horror of it all! --Ed.) Extract the contents of sturdier shells with a nut pick or seafood fork. As you remove each snail from its shell, peel the skin from the meat and cut away the black portion at the end of the tail. (If you have plenty of extras, freeze them for later use, although they'll suffer a slight loss in texture.)
When you're ready for final preparation, cover the meat with water flavored with your favorite bouquet garnis, or add a bay leaf and a little parsley, thyme, onion, garlic, and a few peppercorns. Slosh in some cognac or substitute white wine for half of the water. Bring the water just to a boil and simmer the snails for three to four hours, depending on their size. While the meat cools in the broth, prepare herb butter. Allow one cube of butter (no margarine here, please) for each two dozen snails. With each cube, cream two tablespoons chopped parsley, one table spoon chopped chives, two crushed cloves of garlic, one-quarter teaspoon salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.
*all the other recipes in english used canned snails - imagine!!