Snail Male

As luck, or otherwise, would have it, we’ve hit a spot of poor weather this weekend in the Marais Poitevin. Yesterday we spent a relaxing Sunday with our friends, Mike and Linda, putzing around in between showers. Then, after a splendid evening of food and booze chez eux, we sauntered back to our campsite in the last dry spell before an entire night of rain.

Eventually this morning the rain ceased, then started again, then ceased again. It seemed to be remaining to be ceased so finally we decided to risk an excursion on our bikes and struck out into the lanes twisting through the marais.

You have to give the French credit for being opportunists and, part way into our cycle ride we saw a prime example. Just as the rain brings to the surface earthworms which blackbirds are swift to harvest, so the rain also brings out snails which the French are keen to exploit. There, beside one lane along which we were cycling, was a man, armed with a supermarket carrier bag, picking his way along the hedgerow collecting snails. We’ve witnessed this before: down comes the rain, out come the escargots, out rush the French with buckets and bags to collect one of their favourite gastronomic bonanzas. They never seem to miss an opportunity to collect free food.

In the autumn, mushrooms are another prime example. France is geared up to help people safely exploit the fungi growing in their woodlands. Many pharmacies provide a kind of fungus identification service. Pierre Public, if a little uncertain as to the contents of his mushroom basket, can take along his booty to the local pharmacy and be reassured that he isn’t about to poison himself.  What do we do? Almost unique among European nations, for the most part we ignore such resources. Quelle domage!

I, myself, am very fond of snails swamped in garlic butter. I really should make the effort to research their preparation so I could join in this typically French post-rain ritual one day. At the moment, however, as interested as I am in cooking, I confess to ignorance about how to prepare snails. I believe one has to “purge” them before cooking but the devil is in the detail and I’d hate to get it wrong and waste such a resource by spoiling it. A research note for the future.

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