A French Tradition: The Magic of Escargots

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A French Tradition: The Magic of Escargots
A Poster in Burgundy: Please don’t molest our snails. We eat them. What comes to mind when you think of snails? Slimy? Yes, they are mucus-generating mollusks. Slow? Oui. The only animals slower are coral and sloths. Pests that nibble tiny holes in garden lettuce and leave a trail of who knows what? Certainly a common complaint. Can this creature be transformed into a gourmet delicacy? Credit © Craig Carlson But if you’re French, a lover of traditional French food, or, even better, a Burgundian at heart, you’re more likely to think of that gourmet delicacy—escargots. France is the proud consumer of nearly 60,000 tons of snails a year. National Escargot Day (May 24) slipped by this year with less fanfare because of the more challenging issues of the time. But have no fear. We can honor escargots any time. In fact, escargots have been celebrated for thousands of years. Evidence of shells has been found in prehistoric sites, and snails have been recorded as an elite privilege in Greek and Roman times (with a recipe found in the oldest surviving Roman cookbook from the 1st century). A typical kitchen in Burgundy during snail season. Credit © Françoise Deberdt-Meunier Let Them Eat Snails I was reminded of the agony and ecstasy of escargots in a chapter of Craig Carlson’s new book Let Them Eat Pancakes. (Carlson is the owner of two “Breakfast in America” restaurants in Paris.) He describes a snail experience with his belle maman (mother-in-law) a Burgundy native, that takes place during the escargot hunting season. Yes, there is a snail hunting season in Burgundy—from July 1 through March 31. If you find Burgundy snails (also known as Helix Pomatia) in their usual haunts during that time—vineyards, gardens, and forests—you can harvest them for your personal consumption as long as they are larger than 3 cm. In Burgundy, you can only harvest snails larger than 3 cm. Some of these will have to go. Credit © Françoise Deberdt-Meunier This particular day in Carlson’s book also happened to be snail mating season, so there were hundreds of escargots for the taking. The Transformation After the harvest, the transformation of slimy snail into savory escargot is not an easy process—for the preparer or for the snail. The snail is already a somewhat disadvantaged being. Not only is it slow (snails are so easy to catch that cavemen didn’t know whether to assign “hunters” or “gatherers” to the project), but it is also hard of hearing and mostly blind. Not an ideal life. Then, if caught for an escargot party, it is tortured in stages. (Spoiler alert: if you’re sensitive to animal torture, stop reading here.)
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Lead photo credit : Dreaming of escargots. Credit © Meredith Mullins

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at www.meredithmullins.artspan.com or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.

Comments

  • Parisbreakfast
    2020-09-11 11:50:11
    Parisbreakfast
    Excellent! I love escargot. Picard’s frozen snails are not bad at all if you’re desperate. Just10 minutes in the oven et coila. I’ve come to love the much bigger bulots/sea snails (also known as welks) you can buy bien cuit in the marchés. No butter required and great French fast food.

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  • Jacqueline
    2020-09-11 03:29:22
    Jacqueline
    Please don’t forget the amazing Maison de l’escargot for snails to make at home

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  • David
    2020-09-10 07:52:43
    David
    Great article! Thank you for presenting it here with suggestions on where to find the best escargot. (I must admit that my recent experiences with escargot in Paris were not great - despite dining at some highly-rated restaurants. The snails have tasted muddy and were much too soft [not a good sign]). I hope upon my return to Paris (post-pandemic), I will have better luck! Thank you also for introducing readers to the author and proprietor of Paris's "Breakfast in America" diners!

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  • Sandra Althorpe-Read
    2020-09-10 07:22:08
    Sandra Althorpe-Read
    Sorry but I now feel sick.How can people eat these creatures.

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  • Vivian Jacobs-Geremia
    2020-09-10 05:54:20
    Vivian Jacobs-Geremia
    So intéressant Oui please keep our culture and it’s intricacies coming! Thank you!

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  • Suki Tutthill
    2020-09-09 05:49:47
    Suki Tutthill
    As usual Meredith, loved your article and especially the video of our friend Craig and his Belle-Maman. I hope he does more. I'll check his FB page and see if I can see it and comment. Tommy and I visited Merritt's good friend Naima who used to manage the Peace and Love Youth Hotel near Stalingrad Station and took us to an amazing restaurant where we sampled several escargot dishes. So yummy and amazing. That was many years ago. Just saw on news this morning opening of the Notre Dame undergrand tour. Looks so interesting. Can you write about that? Keep up the good work, enjoying your postings about Paris during the Pandemic.

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