Snails to eat. French cuisine.
When the weather is damp (and this year we have had a lot of damp) my cleaning lady, Josie, comes round to pick up snails. She lives in a flat, you see, and the grounds around the blocks of flats are already covered by other tenants picking up snails whereas she, being the cleaning lady for the Chateau, has large snail-gathering grounds at her disposal.
She arrives with a carrier bag. If I am feeling helpful I will sometimes go round the grounds with her and help her gather snails for her free-bee supper.
“Only the big ones please, Madame, the small ones are bitter and too much trouble,” she instructed me – but in French, of course.
Dutifully I pull snails off gate posts and fences and pop them in to Josie’s carrier bag. It is remarkable how many there are and how large they can be. If you are intending to make them your main meal of the day, you need a helluva lot of them.
“What do you do with them? Boil them?”
“Ah non, Madame! Non, non, non, non!!” (It’s okay, Josie, I got the first non, don’t repeat it). “You must never boil them. That is the worst thing you can do.”
“I see,” I said, wishing I hadn’t asked.
“You need a cardboard box,” said Josie, “and some flour.”
I wondered if she had perhaps moved the conversation on to something totally different, when she continued:
“Quite deep cardboard box,” she said, “so that there’s no chance of the snails getting out. You sprinkle plenty of flour in first, see, plenty of flour. Season it well, especially with pepper. Me, I put in a touch of salt, plenty of pepper and lots of garlic. As much garlic as you have got. The more the better.”
“Jolly good,” I said.
“The snails move about in the flour,” she explained. “They get themselves all sort-of clogged-up in it. They leave this kind of slime behind them, and that mixes in with the flour. Makes a good sauce.”
“Ugh! Doesn’t sound too good, Josie, “ I said.
“But it is, Madame, it is delicious. You leave the snails several days. If you have put lots of salt in, you can leave them longer. Then you fry them up in a spot of oil, add more garlic – and voila! Very good, they are, very good. Glass of white wine, bit of bread, and it’s lovely. You should try it. In fact, Madame, if we gather a few more, I’ll make some for you too!”
“Ah – no, no worries. We have already tried them actually. Wasn’t our thing. Thanks all the same.”
Josie gave me a sideways look.
“I’ve heard about how the English eat,” she half-whispered. She gazed at me in awe. “You prefer to put jam on your meat, don’t you? Is it true?!”
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites. Her sketches are on her web site http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk . Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.