Not Quite a Big Mac
I don’t have much of a garden, just a shared courtyard. I keep a few pots in it and every spring plant them with loud showy flowers. Alas, we have a large population of snails that enjoy a good feast on my flowers. But these aren’t what I’d call the native snails, delicate in size and pretty in colour.
A pretty snail like this would be a welcome visitor to my garden. (Source: Wiki)
No, the snails I mean are the huge devils, all drably striped—Helix aspersa. I tend to think of them as French snails, the ones they call petit gris and serve them up in garlic butter as escargot.
A dish of ‘delicious’ escargot. (Source: Wiki)
In Britain the Helix aspersa is commonly called the ‘Garden Snail’. But I’m not at sure they’re indigenous. There is no tradition of snail-eating here, although we’ll feast on the garden snail’s aquatic cousins i.e. the winkle and whelk. Were these giant beasts yet another import of the Romans? Or were the Normans responsible? (Both Romans and Normans were known to chomp upon snails).
Helix aspersa (Source: Wiki)
The thing is, I’d never been troubled by these monster-snails until I moved to Great Yarmouth. Is there, perhaps, a greater concentration if them here due to it being a port, and thus a potential site of invasion? Ah, the humble snail, it is no problem, I tell myself; there’s a whole lot worse could come off those ships. A rabid dog? A plague-carrying rat? They have in the past.
Regardless of source and cause, these slime trailing creatures used to send me bananas, munching their way through fresh juicy leaves and sweet colourful petals—till I found a solution. Snails don’t like coffee. I’m not sure if it’s the taste or the texture, but layering the pot with a nice topping of used grinds certainly does keep the snails away.
The taste for snails is no recent thing, though I’d thought it a famine food that’s become an acquired taste, a delicacy. But not so.
According to an article published on the PLOS One website (20 August 2014), humans were eating snails 30,000 years ago.
Javier Fernández-López de Pablo and colleagues from the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeo-ecology and Social Evolution have discovered remains of Palaeolithic snails at Cova de la Barriada (a pair of rock shelters near Benidorm), in south-eastern Spain. Apparently they were a large species—yeah, and so are the ones in my garden. From the archaeological context, it seems our ancestors enjoyed their snails roasted in embers of pine and juniper.
Yet the proto-Spaniards seem to have been alone in their early culinary enjoyment. In the neighbouring Mediterranean countries, e.g., Morocco, France and Italy, snails wouldn’t appear on the menu for another 10,000 years.
All I can say is, I do wish they’d kept their snails to the far side of the Channel. And I wonder what’s the Palaeolithic equivalent of garlic butter?