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

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Continuing the list, I will next mention the large yellow underwing moth, whose caterpillar feeds upon turnip and cabbage leaves. The moth itself is a very familiar sight, its size and yellow underwings rendering it a conspicuous object when, disturbed from its day retreat, it rises with sluggish flight before us. In seasons when this moth is numerous great numbers might be caught, both in the daytime and at night, with the net and by sugaring trees as practised by moth-collectors. When nicely fried in butter, their plump bodies rival the torch-cooked delicacies of the traveller's tale. Again, there is the common Buff-tip, a handsome moth, with forewings of a beautiful grey colour, marked with ruddy and black patches, and tipped, as its name imports, with light buff. It is handsome. What is more, let me whisper the ogreish suggestion that its body, an inch in length, is plump, round, and sweet. Its caterpillars are well known to every one, whether Londoner or countryman, for they swarm, at the end of June, in town and country alike upon their favourite lime trees. Their yellow forms, striped and ringed with black, are often to be seen crawling across the arid desert of the London pavements in search of some congenial soil wherein they bury themselves for the term of insect purgatory. Looking up then at the tree from which these wanderers have descended, one may see branches, perhaps many, perhaps few, stripped of their foliage and down the stem other caterpillars hurriedly crawling, knowing that their time has come; that nature calls them to throw off their gay garments and humble themselves beneath the soil, before bursting out into rollicking Buff-tips. It never strikes the Londoner, as he hurries along beneath the shady trees, that these caterpillars are good to eat. He either stamps upon or carefully avoids them, according to his nature. The street boy picks up, plays with, and finally squashes them; but the extraordinary part of it is that it never strikes him to taste them. Boys taste almost everything. But this prejudice against insects seems rooted in them from the earliest age, for I have never seen a child experiment upon the unknown sweets of insect food. These Buff-tip caterpillars swarm upon the trees in such numbers, in favourable seasons, that many a dish can be obtained with a little trouble, which is amply repaid not only by their flavour, but also by the saving of the tender foliage of the limes. Most of the commoner moths which flit in thousands by night, around our fields and gardens, have nice fat carcases, and ought certainly to be used as food. Why, they are the very incarnescence of sweetness, beauty, and deliciousness; living storehouses of nectar gathered from the most fragrant flowers! They, too, voluntarily and suggestively sacrifice themselves upon the altar of our lamps, as we sit, with open windows, in the balmy summer nights. They fry and grill themselves before our eyes, saying, " Does not the sweet scent of our cooked bodies tempt you? Fry us with butter; we are delicious. Boil us, grill us, stew us; we are good all ways!"


I will now pass on to our British land mollusks, beginning with the snail, of which it has been said, "As the fisherman hates the otter, so does the gardener this voracious, destructive pest." Anathematized by every person who possesses the smallest patch of garden; lying in abundance around our feet, a wholesome food, and at the same time a pest to be destroyed, they are still almost entirely neglected by rich and poor alike, though the rich long for new dishes to tempt their jaded palates, and the poor starve. This is the more extraordinary when it is considered how fond the whole nation is of such mollusks as it is in the habit of eating. To the rich there are no greater delicacies than oysters, while the poor consume incredible quantities of the cheaper mollusks, such as cockles, whelks, etc.

One has only to walk down the streets of any poor quarter of London to realize the immense trade which is done by the numerous costermongers, whose barrows are laden with little plates of ready-cooked mollusks, of many varieties. Yet in the country the poorer labourers and their families go on week after week, attempting to keep body and soul together with nothing but bread, varied, if possible, by the addition of a taste of bacon, while hundreds of nutritious and wholesome snails and slugs swarm at night upon the little cottage garden. Why this wanton and reckless waste of food? Prejudice, foolish prejudice! Half the poor of England would actually die of starvation before stretching out their hands to gather the plentiful molluscous food which their neighbours in France delight in. There are many cases—I have known several myself —where the poor will gather snails and small slugs, and swallow them raw, as a remedy for cough or weak chest; yet it never seems to strike them that this strengthening medicine is quite plentiful enough to serve as a pleasant and strengthening food. As a medicine, they are right to eat their mollusks raw, because snails and slugs, like all their class, consist principally of albumen which when raw is easily digested.

Of course the rich can afford to please themselves and reject a pleasant, wholesome food if they choose; but it seems a sin that our starving poor should continue to neglect this abundant food-supply. Something could be done by force of example. Masters might prepare savoury snail dishes, according to the recipes used in all parts of the Continent, and in course of time the servants would follow suit. One great stumbling-block in the way is the generally prevailing idea that there is only one species, the edible snail (Helix pomatia), which is fit for food, or used as such upon the Continent. It cannot be too widely known that this is quite a mistake. The only superiority of the so-called edible snail over its fellows is its superior size. The fact of its superiority in size recommended it to the Romans as the best species to cultivate for the table; the fact of it having been so favoured and cultivated above its fellows has given rise to its name, and to the false idea that none other is edible. This Helix pomatia is by no means common in England, but is found in Kent, Surrey, and other southern counties, where it is supposed by many to have been imported by the invading Romans.

The common garden snail (Helix aspersa), as well as many other smaller kinds, is eaten in France and everywhere else where snails find favour.

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