Snails… to say they are odd little creatures would be an understatement, but just the same… they are odd little creatures.
I have never been a great fan of snails. As a common garden variety, I thought they were pretty gross and provoked stomping, and as an edible dish, well the garlic coated snails that I had whilst travelling through Andorra in the Pyrenees a number of years ago, were akin to garlic coated snippets of rubber thong that made enough of an impression on me to never want to eat them again.
Then my whole snail world changed…
I was a dinner guest at Spicer’s Clovelly and was presented with a fabulous snail dish as part of a dego dinner prepared by chef, Cameron Matthews. The snails were slow braised in a decadently rich beef jus and served with prawns (the snails of the sea) and a sublime nasturtium risotto. The snails were the most tender delicious little morsels, of which, I was informed, were in fact farmed locally.
I was suddenly intrigued. I mean snail farm – WT? Here on the Sunshine Coast? I wouldn’t have thought there was a demand, but it would seem these odd little creatures have quite a secret following. I decided this warranted further exploration.
So I orchestrated a meeting with two snail farmers, both out Glasshouse Mountains way. I went out there preparing to screw my nose up, thinking that this was by far one of the most unappetising foodie adventures that I had ever sent myself on, but once I got there, long held opinions were suddenly altered.
I am not quite sure what I had imagined a snail farm would look like. I guess I had always thought that snails were quite dirty creatures, living on compost heaps and being indiscrete enough to leave a slimy silver trail wherever they go. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Snails are in fact incredibly clean little beings. They are quite selective about what they eat, and furthermore, they are incredibly cute!
So I got the grand tour of both facilities. The first facility was run by Kim and Rhonda Petty and a smaller scale operation. It warrants mentioning that snail farmers are incredibly passionate about their farming and are quite fond of their little friends, and I can easily see why.
I was instantly quite enamoured; they are such funny looking creatures, their little heads, eyes and tentacles constantly pivoting around or retracting. My hostile preconceptions were melting away quite quickly.
Next we went to Glasshouse Gourmet Snails, where Mary Page and Cliff Wilson had a slightly more elaborate set up. Essentially the snails are raised in shade cloth enclosures. In some instances they are just large shade cloth covered creates, but there are also what Mary and Cliff call their free range enclosures. Free range snails – fancy that – at this point I thought I had heard it all. But the free range enclosure was quite funky. It was a decent sized area where strips of shade cloth hung and the snails had no real roaming restrictions.
Then Mary showed me one of the little baby snails, no larger than a pin head, and that was it, I was totally sold. He/she (snails are hermaphrodites) poked its little head out, and the tiniest little tentacles wavered about – it was seriously the cutest thing that I have ever seen.
It takes a snail 9 months to reach maturity, as in eating size, which I actually thought was quite a long time, but I guess it is relative to their size, and well, they are renowned for being somewhat on the ‘slow’ side.
So what happened next, would be entirely predictable to anyone who knows me well enough… yes, suddenly I was driving home with my own 23 snails sitting on the passenger seat of my car. Of course they were bundled up live in a net as they were actually purged (they are purged for five days) and ready to be sent to the distributor and would eventually end up on someone’s plate, so in a sense I was recuing them???
My intention was to take them home, take some photos, and then do a bit of experimental snail cooking, but once I got them on my day bed and set up the photo props with the nasturtium flowers, and they started sticking their heads out to say ‘hello’, well, I didn’t have the heart.
Of course it wasn’t without a minor tragedy upon arrival at home – I dropped the bag when I got out of the car (idiot!!!) and I cracked a few of their shells. Needless to say I was devastated. My plan was to rescue them, not give them group concussion and I spent the next hour ‘googling’ whether or not they could indeed be saved. As it turns out they can.
So there on my day bed, I literally sat for an hour watching these odd little creatures as they munched away on their carrots – and they like their carrots sliced into quarters – it would appear they are not huge fans of the skin. After five days of purging, they were ravenous, and now that I had ruined their purge, I could hardly eat them now???
It was all of the excuse that I needed; I was off to Bunnings to buy a spray bottle to keep them moist and hopefully help them through their concussion and help heal their cracks. The next thing you know I got totally carried away, bought some timber and shadecloth as well and then went home to design my snail aviary.
It took four weeks of them living in a polystyrene box on my kitchen bench before I actually got around to putting the aviary together. A sore thumb and RSI in my right arm later, I had mini snail condo set up in the garden. So ok, it wasn’t the Palazzo Versace, but it would do very nicely.
So I guess there has been a complete turnaround with my little snail creatures. They are indeed odd little folk, but I have gained many hours of pleasure watching the way they interact, eat, move their way around, and what may initially have been thought of as a slimy silver trail has transformed into a silken silver trail, and I look forward to the next stage of my snail rescue program… becoming an aunt perhaps??
If you would like to know more about snails, Glasshouse Gourmet Snails is open to the public and gives tours through the facility - trust me, if you had any preconceived ‘anti’ ideas about snails, you too might find yourself travelling home with some new pets.
Glasshouse Gourmet Snails
2102 Old Gympie Road, Glasshouse Mountains
Ph. 5493 0890 (call for appointments and opening times)
Anyone who follows my blogs would know how I feel about these farming practices, but here it is again (sorry to bang on about it but…), the new ad for awareness for pig factory farming practices in Australia. Do you know where you pork comes from?
To see the latest ad click on the following link:
This post was written by Petra Frieser – Local Harvest
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