Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dahlia Pests: Just Think Escargot!

Jaden Hair escargot with garlic butter and cognac: recipe for dahlia pestsGarlic is supposed to fend off vampires and discourage some garden pests. But this time, we're recommending it as a snail-control component — not for its natural bug-repelling qualities, which we're not so sure about, but as an ingredient in a delicious way to reduce the snails in your garden and protect your beautiful dahlias from damage from those shell-bearing dahlia pests.

Jaden Hair, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer, maintains a site called Steamy Kitchen, and on that site you'll find her fabulous recipe for escargot with garlic butter and a splash of cognac. That's her photograph on the left; doesn't it look wonderful? Below, you'll find out how to use snails on the hoof instead of the canned variety.

Elegant and delicious, escargot may have been the reason we've been afflicted with Cornu aspersa (formerly Cantareus asperses, formerly Helix aspersa) in the first place. In Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land, Robert Michael Pyle says noted Northwest restaurateur Tony Kischner, when he was proprietor of the Shoalwater Restaurant in Seaview, received a letter from the Washington Department of Agriculture asking that he stop rearing the snail for the kitchen. Kischner, Pyle reported, "had long since given up the chancy practice of snail husbandry in favor of foraging for wild mollusks in the nearby woodlands, where they occur commonly. The results drew praise from many of the restaurant's customers..."

A note of caution about gathering snails for gastronomic purposes: if you use non-organic pesticides in your garden, head for the woods to find your snails. Foraging for snails away from your garden may not directly reduce your snail population, but in the long run it can help reduce the armies that move in from the wild.

To prepare those dahlia pests, the snails, for cooking, put them into a container without food for two days so that they empty their intestines. Rinse them frequently to rid them of any toxins. When you're ready to prepare them, remove them from the container and wash them thoroughly. Plunge them into boiling water seasoned, if you like, with onion and celery tops and a little wine, and boil for five minutes. Or, if you prefer, you can put them into the freezer to kill them, but that seems sort of passive and shabby, somehow. When they've cooled (or frozen and thawed), remove them from their shells, using tweezers or a hook. Remove the operculum (shell door), the body and intestines; the foot is the part you want to eat.

If you want to serve your escargot in their shells, rinse the shells repeatedly and boil with baking soda to thoroughly clean them. You can serve snails without the shells, but they make kind of a nifty presentation.

Click here for more escargot recipes. If you work your way through the whole repertoire, consider this: while you're earning a reputation as a gourmet cook, you're ridding your neighborhood, your garden and your dahlias of pestiferous predators and their potential progeny.

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