Monday, August 27, 2012

Grubs for Dinner.

Today’s post is for those of you who enjoy Extreme Cuisine, whether in reality or vicariously.
The Food Journal, (London, 1871-4) has been a marvelous source of food stories since I discovered it recently. Volume I contains the following article:
Shakespeare asks, "Where is fancy bred; in the heart or in the head?" Without answering the question, we might certainly add that, to judge from what we are about to relate, it has no material connection with the gastronomic organs. If fancy and prejudice only keep neutral, there is no knowing what appetite may do. The stomach and the palate by themselves, uninfluenced through the mind, or rather its fancies, will truly stand anything that is not poisonous, painful, or, apart from its associations, absolutely nasty to the taste. We do not know whether such a divorce between fancy and the body has or has not its advantages. The French Society of Cultivators once sought to solve the point. In solemn conclave they voted a feast, at which a new dish should be the chief attraction. But what novelty could be found? Shall we say that, as savages love to consume their enemies, so these hardy agriculturists sought a palatable flavour in a fried worm? Certain it is that, two years ago, French agriculture was much plagued by worms, and the society chose the worm as the piece de resistance for their banquet. The choice of the species, however, was a matter of grave consideration; and only after much discussion the worm of the cockchafer was selected. This species had, by the way, proved itself the most injurious to the crops. It is known in France as the verblanc, because of its dirty white colour, and rejoices in six legs. Adepts chose a few of the youngest and most tender, while the cooks wisely decreed that they should be thrown into vinegar and water. The immersion made them disgorge the earth which they had swallowed. When thus cleaned, they were rolled in a paste of milk and flour, so as to give them a brittle crust. This much accomplished, the worms were taken in triumph to the Cafe Corazza, in the Palais Royal. This was the house selected for the banquet; but the manager had little suspected what he would be told to place in his cherished frying-pan. However, the chef of this fashionable dining place performed his duty punctually, and just at the right moment the worms were brought up hot and crisp to the banquet. Two were placed on each plate, and it is boastfully recorded that those who ate one ate the other. But more; there were eighty guests and 200 worms, so, perhaps, some might have had three. May this be a lesson to the fastidious who are too fanciful. What may we not accomplish with strength of mind?

The story was repeated by Peter Lund Simmonds in The Animal Food Resources of Different Nations (1885,) although he refers to the venue as the Café Custoza, and he gives us a recipe for the ‘worms.’

A few years ago at the Café Custoza, in Paris, a grand banquet was given for the special purpose of testing the vers blanc, or cockchafer worm.  This insect, it appears, was first steeped in vinegar, which had the effect of making it disgorge the earth, etc., it had swallowed while yet free; then it was carefully rolled up in a paste composed of flour, milk, and eggs, placed in a pan, and fried to a bright golden colour.  The guests were able to take this crisp and dry worm in their fingers. It cracked between their teeth.  There were some fifty persons present, and the majority had a second helping.  The larvae, or grubs, generally, not only of the cockchafer, but those of the ordinary beetles, may, according to some naturalists, be eaten safely.  Cats, turkeys, and different birds devour them eagerly.

We find in a Continental journal, the Gazette des Campagnes, the following receipt for cooking these insects,
which is adopted in certain parts of France :

" Roll the vers blancs, which are short and fat, in flour and bread crumbs, with a little salt and pepper, and wrap them in a stout piece of paper, well-buttered inside. Place it in the hot embers and leave it to cook for twenty minutes, more or less, according to the degree of heat. On opening the envelope a very appetizing odour exhales, which disposes one favourably to taste the delicacy, which will be more appreciated than snails, and will be declared one of the finest delicacies ever tasted." *
* Les Insectes Utiles, par Henri Miot, p. 89. Paris, 1870

Quotation for the Day.

You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times.
Morley Safer

1 comment:

Les said...

Funny, there was a minor worm craze here in the US back in the '70s. News articles claimed they were delicious and nutritious giving recipes for fried worms and for worms in cake. It was marketed as a sort of get rich quick scheme but fizzled out pretty quickly. I have a container of them in the fridge right now that I feed with lettuce to keep them fat and healthy for my pet fish.