Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I grew up thinking snails were something to be crushed by my mom's clogs in the garden. Intentionally and with twisted glee. I can still hear the gooey CRUNCH. They were always eating her vegetables.

"Dash, do you want to eat some snails? They're mollusks. Just like oysters."
"Nope. Snails live in the dirt. They're DIR-TY."
"Okay, I"ll find you some clean ones."

I told my husband I was headed to the garden to collect snails for dinner. Good thing he talked me out of it. You can eat garden snails (Helix aspersa) but first you need to purge the snails' systems of toxins by feeding them healthful snacks like cornmeal and lettuce. For a few weeks. Otherwise you risk eating snail bait, pesticides, and whatever else they've been nibbling on around the neighborhood. The final cleansing step is to boil the heck out of them to remove the mucus.

So I tried to buy some fresh and purged snails. I called six markets and EVERYONE laughed at me. It's like I was asking for horse meat. I finally tracked down some frozen Roman snails (Helix pomatia) that were already cleaned and packed with a parsley and garlic compound butter. Roman snails have much harder shells than garden snails and they're the ones most commonly farmed and eaten. And, as the butcher pointed out, they're called ESCARGOTS, not snails.

We still call them snails around here.

Dash filled my favorite bowl with eight of these creatures and we admired their three-dimensional spiral houses. Bella started to cry when Dash showed her the snails. They offended her on every level.
I tried to excite Bella with some dramatic details. These hermaphroditic gastropod mollusks stab each other right before copulation with love darts. The dart is covered in a substance that makes the incoming sperm more likely to survive.  I modified a bit. "Bella, before they have babies they throw knives at each other made from calcium carbonate."

Dash said, "They love each other and they stab each other? That's not fair."

I threw the snails under the broiler. Bella slammed her door and started making a pot holder.

Dash, on the other hand, got himself a small fork and started digging for some flesh. These little buggers are hard to get out. I can see why there is a special tool out there called an escargot fork.
"Mama, do the snails have faces when they're dead?"
"I don't know.  Let's look."
"My love, I don't see a face."
I guess that was what he wanted to hear. In it went.
"Yum. Okay, mama. You eat one."

Holy shit. It took some strength. Like when you don't want to go into the freezing cold pool but your child really wants to swim. Or when your child is sick in the night and you hold them in the most uncomfortable position for hours. You just do it. I put a snail in my mouth. I gagged. I chewed. I gagged. I smiled. I gagged. And then I swallowed.

Dash crawled into bed with me the next morning.

"Giddy up, aaaarrrrrr, sssssssssssss."
"Dash, what are those sounds?"
"I swallowed a cowboy, a pirate, and a snail."

We got out of bed to draw some innocent pictures of mommy and daddy snails firing off love darts.