Friday 23 June 2023

snails and puppy dog tails.

I was at a retirement party [mine!] a few days ago and I engineered it so that I didn't get sat at the boring table nor yet the misogynist yobs table [win!]. I rather got to sit between my old roomies, one from Greece and one from Portugal. For the wodge of money they had to lay out for the privilege, there was a rather limited menu - three starters, three mains, petits fours for afters. My dins, as one of several retirees, was on the house. We all opted for hake Merluccius merluccius - probably as a damage limitation exercise to avoid a big lump of overcooked beef or chicken à la something. Among the gadiformes hake is a little more interesting than cod Gadus morhua or whiting Merlangius merlangus but my druthers are defo with haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus. But I'm not picky and polished off my grilled hake fillet, shkin-and-all plus an indifferent pile of unadventurous veg. My companions took the opportunity to snark at Irish failure to get the best out of the sea which surrounds us - the vast majority of us apparently preferring fish-fingers made from a paste of fins, skin and offcuts or a fillet of white-fish [species unspecified] overwhelmed with batter or breadcrumbs. I don't get into other folks' kitchens much, so I can't comment on this generalization.

There is a long tradition of culinary molluscs in Ireland - cue Molly Malone and her cockles and mussels. But I don't know many families who actually eat molluscs on the regular - and those eaten are almost exclusively bivalves like clams, oysters and indeed cockles and mussels. The other big group within mollusca are the gastropoda and occasionally I meet people on the beach who ate scavenging for whelks or [peri]winkles. I guess few people in Ireland would, from choice, eat slugs or even >!added crunch!< snails the other available land-based gastropods. 

There are, however, about 30 snail farms in Ireland: operating almost exclusively for the export trade to Johnny Foreigner in France. If you're diversity-thinking enough to escargrow alongside suckler cows with a side of brassica; then you're enterprising enough to offer courses to aspirants to the business. Learn all you need for €150 in person or €75 on-line! The Farmer's Journal gives the sector some side-eye: if it was really easy to make a fortune in Cornu aspersum previously known as Helix aspersa then you wouldn't be piffing about running a ponzi scheme courses. Snail-scaled electric fence? - who knew that was A thing?? Teagasc is alternatively gung-ho about snail-farming. It looks [deceptively?] simple: 

  • some old boards to give escape from the sun
  • sprinklers in case it all gets too droughty
  • some bird-netting to slow the predators
  • a dusting of crushed [hen] egg-shell for the calcium
  • let them eat nettles Urtica dioica or a pelleted ration

Teagasc optimistically touts yields of 10,000kg an acre = 25,000kg / hectare selling at €4/kg. 1kg is about 100 (8-15g wt) snails. Helix pomatia, the Burgundy or Roman snail, is slightly larger at 20-25g each but doesn't do well when intensively farmed. You're better off scavenging these from the long-acre or your garden. Cook 'em up with shallots, parsley, lemon juice and loadsa butter et voil√†! Better get on it soon: you'll be surviving on these creatures when the apocalypse arrives.

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