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Why not eat insects, by Vincent M. Holst (1885) Part 3 cont

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What a godsend to housekeepers to discover a new entrĂ©e to vary the monotony of the present round! Why should invention, which makes such gigantic strides in other directions, stand still in cookery? Here then, mistresses, who thirst to place new and dainty dishes before your guests, what better could you have than "Curried Maychafers"—or, if you want a more mysterious title, "Larvae Melolonthae a la Grugru"?  Landowning guests ought to welcome the opportunity of retaliating, at your table, under the "lex talionis," upon this, one of the worst of their insect tormentors. Another dish, which should take with the farmer, would be "Fried Chafers with Wireworm sauce." Perhaps, however, the little word "worm" might be objected to. So let us pander to the refined senses of the delicately fastidious by writing it upon our menu as "Fried Melolonthae with Elater sauce." I know that wireworms are an excellent substitute for shrimps. There are, also, thousands of members of the same family as the shrimp (Crustaceans) in every garden, namely, the common Wood-lice (Oniscus muriarius). I have eaten these, and found that, when chewed, a flavour is developed remarkably akin to that so much appreciated in their sea cousins. Wood-louse sauce is equal, if not distinctly superior to, shrimp.

The following is the recipe: Collect a quantity of the finest wood-lice to be found (no difficult task, as they swarm under the bark of every rotten tree), and drop them into boiling water, which will kill them instantly, but not turn them red, as might be expected. At the same time put into a saucepan a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, a teaspoonful of flour, a small glass of water, a little milk, some pepper and salt, and place it on the stove. As soon as the sauce is thick, take it off and put in the wood-lice. This is an excellent sauce for fish. Try it.

Passing on to the order Hymenoptera, the Sawfly at once strikes us as a very familiar insect, which in its larval stage plays sad havoc among the gooseberry bushes, often stripping them bare of leaves, and thus spoiling all chance of fruit. We all know in what myriads the grub swarms upon the trees, and how hard it is to induce our gardener, or any one else, to take timely steps for its destruction. If it were known to be nice to eat, there would be little fear of this voracious feeder carrying on its destruction uninterrupted. It would be a race between the cook and the gardener's wife, who should first arrive at the poor gooseberry bush. There is also the Turnip Sawfly, better known to farmers as "the Black," which sometimes devours whole fields of roots, leaving not a leaf to be seen. In this order are included Bees and Wasps. From the former we already derive a delicious sweet in the form of golden honey. From the latter we might, if we chose, derive an equally delicious savoury. What disciple of old Izaak Walton, when he has been all the morning enticing the wily trout with luscious wasp grubs baked to a turn, has not suspected a new and appetizing taste imparted to his midday meal of bread and cheese or sandwich? Perhaps his own meal has travelled to the scene of action in the same basket as the rich cakes of grubs; or it may be that the fish are biting too well to allow time for a thorough hand-washing, and rapid bites are taken from the lunch in the intervals between the bobbing of the float and the replacing of the nibbled grubs. At any rate, it will, sometimes, so happen to every fisherman to get the taste and smell of cooked wasp grubs with his meal, and I have never noticed that it in any way spoilt his appetite. Attracted by the said taste and smell, and having no prejudices against insect food, I have myself spread the baked grubs upon my bread, and found their excellent flavour quite sufficient to account for the fondness of the trout for this particular bait.


I will admit that wasps are occasionally carnivorous, but it is the exception and not the rule. Moreover, the saccharine fluid with which they feed their infant grubs is, I believe, entirely composed of vegetable juices, drawn from ripe fruits and flowers. Their babes, like our own, are fed only upon what are called "spoon victuals." Let us, then, welcome among our new insect dishes "Wasp grubs baked in the comb." The number of wasps' nests taken and destroyed, in a prolific season, is something extraordinary. I have known as many as sixteen or twenty nests to be taken by a gardener within a very short radius round his house. What a waste of good wholesome food takes place then, when cake after cake, loaded with fat grubs, is stamped under foot! The next order, the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), is rich in material for practical experiment and demonstration of my theory of insect food for omnivorous man. The usual stock terms for insects, "hideous," "loathsome," etc., cannot be applied with any justice to this class, which, in its perfect state is renowned for its elegant beauty, and in its larval or caterpillar state is almost invariably pleasingly coloured and by no means repulsive to the eye. Their diet, too, is of the most purely vegetarian description, consisting, as it does, in the first stage of leaves, and the sweet nectar of flowers in the second. The tiny ant knows and appreciates the sweetness of insects which feed upon the juices of plants or flowers, for it keeps and tends with care numerous milch herds of aphides or green flies, to coax from their plump bodies the pearly drops of the honey dew it loves so well.

We have always been taught that in many points the ant is to be imitated. In its just appreciation of insects as a sweet source of food it is to be imitated too. I think it is in "Swiss Family Robinson" that there is a clever account of some travellers, wandering at night through a forest by torchlight, being greatly annoyed by huge moths, which repeatedly extinguished the torches by their suicidal love of light. However, annoyance was turned to joy when, tempted by the appetizing smell of the toasted moths, the hungry travellers ventured to satisfy in part their hunger with the suicides, which they found as excellent in flavour as in smell. From what I recollect of the tale, I believe this was quite a fancy description, probably founded on the real habits of the natives which had been observed by the travelled author of the book. I well remember that, on reading that account, my youthful imagination reproduced without effort the appetizing smell of a plump baked moth; but it did not occur to me then to try such a tid-bit. Lately, however, I have done so, to find the dream of my childhood fully realized as to the delights, both in taste and smell, of a fat moth nicely baked. Try them, ye epicures! What possible argument can be advanced against eating a creature beautiful without and sweet within; a creature nourished on nectar, the fabled food of the gods?

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