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Molluscs and me at Folkestone Book Festival

http://www.folkestonebookfest.com/whats-on/quarters-session-3 Get your tickets here!

Here's something to look forward to. I've been invited to talk about my book at the Folkestone Book Festival 20 -29 November. The early bird booking period will finish on Sunday 27 September and tickets are selling fast. Please follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter:

Facebook: /FolkestoneBookFestival

Twitter: @FstoneBookFest

Look forward to seeing you there. The molluscs love a festival.

 

 

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#snails published in @TheLadyMagazine and The Grocery Trader

The Grocery Trader has given us a mention in their latest edition highlighting new products at the Speciality and Fine Food Fair starting 6 September #SFFF15. This welcome publicity coincides with an appearance on page 68 in The Lady Magazine this week in their feature Best of British Food and Drink.

One of the best events in the year is our members meeting at Produced in Kent and we had a lovely picnic there on Thursday. Lots of other artisan food producers there so plenty of opportunity to catch up with the news and get good advice. One way and another it's been a great week!

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Tiny snails for baby birds @RSPB

If you've visited our lovely new shop you may notice that we've sold out of small snails. That's because we're supplying the RSPB with tiny snails to feedbaby birds. It's part of a captive breeding programme to support the UK population of corncrakes which are a rare species of bird. If you want to read more there's lots about corncrakes on the RSPB website:

 

 

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Homepsun advice on collecting #snails from the wild and cooking them

Snails from Your Garden to Your Table

Quoting from Escargots From Your Garden to Your Table by Francois Picart (F. Picart Snails, 1978), pages 53 to 57:

"Once collected, the snails must be sorted by size. You are looking for adults since they are the valuable food items. Leave the juveniles to fatten and grow. In this chapter you will learn how to spot a mature snail and what to do with it."

"A grown-up snail develops a lip at the front end of its shell, just where it curves over the snail's 'neck'. When this lip hardens, the snail has reached full growth. It will be at least 1 1/4 inch in size and ready to join others of similar rank in a specially designed, well-ventilated cage. Juveniles are always kept in a separate house."

"To furnish the adult cage you will need:
Two bricks or coffee cans
A piece of board
Two shallow pans -- for food and water

* After constructing a simple rectangular cage (See chapter on cages), place the bricks or coffee cans inside, standing on end about 1 foot apart. * Set the board across the brick/cans. (Test to be certain the board rests securely.)

* Place the two shallow pans on the board; fill one pan with water; in the second pan place a thin layer of cornmeal, wheat bran, or a mixture of the grains. This is a delicacy to the delicacy you are cultivating."

"Change the snail water every two or three days. Check the food supply daily. Care for the snails in this manner for two weeks. To avoid contamination of the harvest, IMMEDIATELY remove any snails that should die. They appreciate good housekeeping and will respond to your loving care. You want them fat and happy."

"Simply put, a fat snail is more appetizing and delicious than a scrawny one. To encourage their appetites and ensure their plumpness, sprinkle the snails' cages with water every evening. A gentle sprinkle will not disturb them more than is necessary to keep them active and hungry. But do not over water. Standing water on the cage bottom is dangerous to a snail's health. The holes in the base allow adequate drainage."

"At the end of two weeks your snails will need a bath. Remove them from their cages and place them in a bucket or tub. Treat them as though they were crystal; their shells can be easily broken if you are not gentle. Rinse the snails under running water and return them to CLEAN cages from which all food and water has been removed. They must now fast for at least 24 hours. If possible, keep them dieting for two full days."

"After the fast, your snails are ready for their transformation: to be glorified into the gastronomic wonder you have worked and waited for ... escargots. Before the DO's, a few important DON'TS:"

"DO NOT sprinkle the snails with salt prior to cooking. This obsolete French custom was originally thought to help rid the snail of its slime. The practice is both cruel and quite ineffective; since a snail uses its mucus as a defence, the more salt you shower upon it, the more mucus the creature will produce. Commercial outfits have abandoned the procedure. We suggest you trust their wisdom."

"Do not remove the tortillon, or gall. This protrusion spirals into the inner shell and contains the snail's liver. Cooks formerly removed it due to ignorance of snail physiology. Save yourself the time and extra work. Removing the tortillon eliminates the most nutritious and good-tasting portion of the snail. More about this in the next chapter."

"DO NOT cook a dead snail. And never give a snail the benefit of the doubt. If you think a snail might be dead, poke it with a sharp object and if it does not react, do not cook it."

"PREPARATION"

"You will need:
4 dozen snails, fully retracted into their shells
2 gallons water"

"Boil the water. When it maintains a rolling boil, add the snails. They will be very uncooperative unless they have withdrawn. A shake of the container in which they await cooking should force them back into their shells."

"Boil for three minutes, then drain and rinse the snails in cold water for several minutes more. Following this rinse, remove the snails from their shells. (While some gourmets continue cooking them inside their shells, we do not recommend trying this with the California escargot. The shell is too delicate and fragile and could chip into the meat during the final cooking process.) Although a two-pronged fork is ideal for the task, any sharp object such as a small knife or a knitting needle may be used for removing the snails."

"Extracting the snail is not a difficult procedure, but it does require a little practice. Hold the shell in one hand and poke the meaty part of the foot with your fork. Gently and firmly twist the hand holding the snail as you counter twist and pull up with the hand holding the fork. If this does not loosen the snail, it may be that you overcooked it. One of the secrets to success with snails is patience. As with any other new challenge, practice will make you an expert."

"Wash the unshelled snails at least 3 times in vinegar and water (one cup of vinegar to two gallons of water) to eliminate remaining mucus. Drain well and cook for 30 minutes in water with bay leaves (laurel), thyme, and salt and pepper."

"In the meantime, if you plan to serve your snails in their shells, examine the shells for cracks or holes. Wash sound shells thoroughly and cook one hour in a solution of baking soda and water (1/2 cup baking soda to a gallon of water). Dry in an oven preheated to 300 F."

"When the escargots are done, drain and cool. You may now freeze them for later use or serve them for more immediate enjoyment. There is a variety of delicious recipes in this book. Or let your imagination run away with you. There is more to escargot than butter and garlic."

collected by Bert Christensen
Toronto, Ontario

PS I would add more flavourings during cooking and the current advice from the Food Stanards Agency is that the liver should be removed 'where necessary' (whatever that means!)

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Baby snails venturing outdoors #nationalescargotday

Sunday 24th May is National Escargot Day and the weather is good enough for the babies to go outside at last. Just keep your fingers crossed we don't get a late frost. The plants in the pens have grown really well just in the last week or two. I've got a mix of self-seeded perpetual spinach like last year but also broccoli and oil seed rape. I tried planting the rape last year so I would have good sized vegetation earlier but it didn't germinate. #Note to self: plant oil seed rape earlier this year!

venturing out May 2015 If you've never tried eating snails then Cafe Rouge have a special offer on Sunday. Just go in and ask and they'll give you a sample pot of their delicious escargots to taste #rougesnails. Now there's an opportunity you can't refuse!

But there's a lot more to snails than garlic butter. I'm sure I've already given you my recipe for snail pizza in Molluscs and Me but if you haven't seen it just improvise. We matched the soft cooked snails with purple sprouting broccoli. But it could be asparagus as that's in season now and then we added blue cheese. I'm a goat's cheese fan and I really like to support UK food producers so instead of gorgonzola, I've got some Ribblesdale blue in my fridge which is just as creamy smooth and delicious. It's a wonderful combination.

Happy National Escargot Day to you all!

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10 tips for preparing for an exhibition

This is the last working day to make sure I've got everything ready for the Farm Shop and Deli Show.  The first time the snails and I exhibited ourselves I got hold of one of those invaluable lists of how to prepare. Well, to be honest it wasn't quite the first time because I only thought about it after I was standing behind a badly designed stand having left everything I needed at home. But these days I make lists with dates on it by which each important task has been completed. Today I can claim I've done all those important things: got everything printed, washed and ironed the tablecloth, prepared all the Mini Snail Farm and Grow Your Own Escargots boxes and put everything into crates ready to load into the car. H&RH Escargots BoxH&RH Mini Snail Farm Box

Now I've just got to do all those other things that aren't on the list:

1. Give Bugsy the guinea pig a bath so he's ready to go to April Lodge for his holiday. I think he likes being there with all those other friends he's on squeaking terms with, but I nearly forgot to book him in because it wasn't on the list.  Yesterday it unexpectedly rained after I'd put him out into the garden for some exercise and instead of retreating into the shelter, he sat out there grabbing grass as though his life depended on it and got wet through. I dried him off with the hair dryer but he still looks a bit like he's been pulled through a hedge backwards. So it's bathtime for Bugsy this afternoon with special shampoo.

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2. Bathtime too for Dusty and Freddy ferret before they go off to the ferret lady. I need to make sure they aren't taking any 'little visitors' with them. They won't like being bathed - they never do - but it has to be done! This is Dusty wondering if the camera is edible:

Dusty 05.08.10

3. Cook some food as I'll be a guest in my daughter's house and they will be at work too so I want to make it easy for them. Getting a meal in the evening is always an extra pressure we could do without when we just want to collapse in front of the telly.

4. Get snacks to eat while I'm standing for endless hours talking to potential customers. It's usually round about 3pm that I start to get really hungry and then sleepy. I've developed an unreasonable passion for wasabi peas which ought to wake me up, a handful of mixed nuts can keep me going for ages, 85% dairy free chocolate is a must and I'll need lots of bottled water. I may not be able to get a hot drink unless someone on a neighbouring stand takes pity on me.

5. Do the last load of washing and ironing so I've got the clothes I need to take and there will still be something clean left for when I get back.

6. Put a notice on the website to say the office and online shop are closed for a few days. I'll have to check the orders while I'm away and let customers know when their orders will be sent out.

7. Prepare the orders I've already received ready to go out the day I get back and email each customer explaining what's happening.

8. Clear the kitchen because the worktop is being replaced while I'm away. The new one arrived yesterday, with only a small chunk knocked out of the ceiling as they brought it in! And the fitter is picking up the back door key today - I hope. I must remember to take the key out of the inside of the lock when I go otherwise he won't be able to get in.

9. It's my mother's birthday tomorrow - I've got the card but need to make time to take her out. She'll want to go to the shops to buy chocolate I guess and I can't pack the car until after that so I can get the wheelchair in the boot. It is interesting how one's life shrinks to focus around such essentials as chocolate as one ages.

10. and last but not least ... what about the snails you ask? Well the snail sitters are all organised. I've just got to make sure they've got enough snail food to keep them going and know what to do in a crisis.

seedlings April 2015

I can't do anything about all the little seedlings at the allotment growing in the snail pens ready for the new season's babies to go out in a month's time. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the weather isn't too hot and there is a little bit of rain from time to time.

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Roman snails reappear to enjoy the sun

baby Romans 08.04.15 In August last year our first baby Roman snails emerged from the soil in their pen at Littlebourne Allotments. I counted about 30 but they were so tiny and it was so late in the year I wondered if they would survive the winter. But yesterday I was delighted to see the warm weather had brought the little snails out to graze during the day and I counted 33. I gave them some water and dry food and they were soon tucking in.

Most of the other snails were collected up in October/ November and taken indoors either to hibernate or to carry on growing in a warm shed. But I left a few out just to see how they would get on outside. These were mullers (petit gris) and I reasoned they might be more hardy as they are smaller and more like our common garden snails. Well, some of them died but most have survived I think and they too were out snacking while the sun shone:

overwintered mullers 08.04.15When they are tiny like this the Helix aspersa mullers and the Helix pomatia (Roman snails) look very similar. But if you look at the foot you can see a difference in the shape: the foot of the Roman snail looks as though it has a skirt round the edge while the mullers don't have that. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed the weather doesn't suddenly turn very cold again and catch them out. Only a few more weeks before Slow Summer Snail Farm moves outside for another English summer.

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UK's first snail sommelier @CafeRougeTweet

Embedded image permalink To celebrate the launch of their new menu Cafe Rouge appointed me the UK's first snail sommelier and asked me to help promote their new dish Ragout d'Escargots. Snails go very well with mushrooms and I predict the addition of truffle oil will make it irresistible.

Snails are so good for you! They don't store fat - though serving them in lashings of garlic butter probably cancels that out. But they are solid protein and full of good things like trace elements and vitamins.

Sommelier is a lovely word that I just had to look up. You probably associate it with wine but in Japan it is linked with other good things to eat. There you will find beer, sake and even vegetable sommeliers. I have read that they also apply the term to other sorts of experts such as music: in Japan you could be a music sommelier. But the derivation is so old that the modern usage has moved a long way from it. In Middle French it is associated with the transportation of supplies and dates back to a time when transport of goods used pack animals like donkeys. So in old Provencal a saumalier was a pack animal driver. I like the sound of that.

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#Footballingsnails You've got to watch this one!

Have you ever been famous for a day? Lots of my snails get to be film stars. In the early days I considered registering them with one of those agencies that hires out animals. I described Egbert in detail on a site which was obviously designed with cats and dogs in mind: colour of eyes black, colour of coat brown and gold stripes, personality calm and contemplative and so on. But they wanted £150 to register him and advertise him for hire so I gave up on that idea. However, I quite often get enquiries so I designed a special film package: whatever snails you need, temporary housing, some food, care instructions so you can get them to perform successfully under those hot lights and you send them back for a rest after you've finished filming. Harriet made this lovely film which is sure to make you laugh:

Footballing snails

Let's get this trending on twitter between us.

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Breakfast in bed for the molluscs

muller 1

I know it's Saturday morning and time for breakfast in bed for us Monday to Friday workers, but just look at this lazy creature who can't be bothered to stretch out from under the duvet. He hasn't even got his antennae fully extended - just peeping to see where the food is and trying to slide towards it without using too much energy.

We've got two different strains of the same species of snail. We call them mullers and maximas. The little chap in that first picture is a muller looking like the snails you might find in the garden but with a white mantle and pale body:

muller 2

This is what Helix aspersa muller looks like from underneath. The mantle is the very important organ which appears like a rim round the body. It secretes the shell and lines the inside of the shell.

Contrast that with this maxima:

maxima

This one is Helix aspersa maxima which has a black mantle. This snail is hibernating so there is a white rim but it is the edge of the shell not the mantle.

Both maxima and muller are for sale in the online shop.

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Welcome to 2015 from the molluscs and me

2014 was quite year!

Fireworks Show

Looking back to last January I can see I spent a lot of time reading and reviewing books in the short days and long evenings of winter. My memory is so bad these days I'd forgotten that Bugsy and Splash the guinea pigs joined the menagerie back in January too. Splash was very old and cranky so we weren't surprised when he left us to join the great guinea pig heaven in October. I wondered if Bugsy would pine but he seems to be enjoying not having to share his breakfast with someone else. Nevertheless I think we will be looking for a companion for him soon. In February I posted my first blog about Mollusc World, the wonderful magazine of the Conchological Society and I'm sure I will be telling you more on that subject. Moving Slow Summer Snail Farm from Brogdale to Littlebourne Allotments was a major event that took months of hard work but it all started in February... much earlier than I thought. Who would have thought that the floods happened in February? I'm so glad I took some pictures otherwise I would have forgotten what it looked like.

March began with some thoughts about why snails feature on the menu during Lent. I've recently been given some new insights into why snails fell out of favour in England after centuries of popularity. The new information came from a blogger called Miss Foodwise, who is very knowledgeable on the history of cooking in Britain.  She suggested that the Reformation was the key to the change because after that it became dangerous to engage in any activity that might be associated with Catholicism. So the ‘wallfish’ was left to flourish and become a garden pest instead of remaining the cheap nutritious source of protein it still is in many parts of the world.

Well that was the first three months of 2014 - lots more to come!

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@BBCGoodFood Show #GFSwinter

Winter Bursary Sometimes you just have to boast! In two weeks time Rachel and I will be putting the finishing touches to our stand at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC Birmingham.

photo snails eating

Would you believe, we are the first snail farmers the BBC Good Food Show has ever had and we just had to take the molluscs with us. This is the beautiful new packaging for our mini snail farms - ready for Christmas.

H&RH Mini Snail Farm Box

And this is the package for the Grow Your Own Escargots gift. We can't let the children have all the fun! Here's a quirky gift for the grow your own food fans in your family.

H&RH Escargots Box

The last few weeks have been full of finishing off all the paperwork, ordering everything we needed, getting everything printed and putting packs together. Then there was the stand to design - choosing a colour for the backdrop and to cover the table. We decided to go for burgundy and it's amazing what you can achieve with a stack of cheap double sheets. Then there's a couple of tall bookcases to display the packs and we're all set. I just hope I can get it all in the car - mustn't forget the stepladder. This has all been achieved in the middle of a muddy building site - the kitchen wall was demolished today. Why does it always rain as soon as you dig a big hole?

And we haven't forgotten the crowdfunding campaign which we'll be promoting all through the show with some delightful little snail-y gifts for stocking fillers.

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Learning about living things #crowdfunding

On Thursday we were invited in to Wickhambreaux primary school to the after school young gardeners club for a Meet the Snails event.

School Video.Still008

We took a mini farm with some baby snails and some big ones too so the children could see how they grew. One of the girls ran her finger round the spiral shell and told me how the shell grows as the snail gets bigger.

School Video.Still022

The excitement of the children is always infectious on these occasions and this was no exception. They were amazed at how hard the shell was when the babies first hatch and how fast they move when they can smell food. The children were mostly six or seven and they were very knowledgeable about snails already but did enjoy feeling the radula in the snail's mouth gently rasp their fingers. It is difficult to explain in words how the snail eats but when you can feel it with your fingers it all makes sense. We sprinkled some dry snail food onto the inside of the mini farm bell too so they could see the snail opening its mouth to show the black radula inside and scrape the food off the surface.

The children already knew that snails laid eggs but they didn't know how many one snail could lay so it was good to be able to show them a clutch that were laid the previous week.

It's their long antennae that always fascinate me - they way they wave about in all directions. Because our eyes both normally point the same way so we can focus on an object, it is difficult to imagine what it's like to have eyes that just rove about randomly!

All too soon it was time to go for the molluscs and me so we said goodbye and left them to tend their gardens.

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Mini Snail Farm Trail: update #crowdfunding

Mini Snail Farm Trail Just think - your children could have 6 little cuties like these in their school classroom! And everything they need to look after them.

mini_snail_farm_baby_snailsYesterday we were at a remarkable event: Whitstable Museum of fun.  I found out it was part of lots of similar days happening across the UK. The idea is to engage young children in a whole range of science and arts experiments, which is something I thoroughly approve of. I was only able to be there with the molluscs for a relatively short period of time because of other commitments but it was a joy to see the children enjoying themselves and learning without realising it.

Log on here to contribute to our campaign fund and help disadvantaged children learn about living things: mini snail farm trail

 

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Mini Snail Farm Trail: support for schools

Mini snail farm trail is open for business and we need you to visit the campaign site, watch the fantastic video with all those cute baby snails in it and make a donation. It doesn't have to be much. If everyone gave £10 we would soon reach our target. Our modest aim is to give free mini snail farms to 50 selected schools.

mini farm Kerry smaller

The mini snail farm is an invaluable resource in a classroom because the children learn so much from it. You get 6 baby snails just a few millimetres in length but very active, curious about their environment and fun to watch. The children's attention will be immediately engaged and they will be keen to look after them. The housing, bedding and some food are included in the parcel along with instructions on how to look after the snails. The children will be able to watch how the snails use their antennae to explore their surroundings. As they glide across the surface of the bell they will be able to watch the muscles ripple along the foot and see their mouths when they eat.

Just imagine yourself into their shoes and try to remember how exciting such discoveries could be when you were their age. Dig deep into your pockets and give generously. Get a mini farm for the children in your life.

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learning about living things

If you were up at the crack of dawn and watching early morning Sunday television, you might have seen the molluscs and me on the BBC 1 Breakfast Show. See the video here. It was a lovely gentle summer day when Helier Cheung from BBC World Service came to film and I talked to her about my crowd-funding campaign due to be launched on 22 September. Unfortunately that section got lost in the editing but you can read all about it and watch the video here.

mini snail farm

I think it is so important for children to learn about living things that I want to do what I can to encourage schools. If we can raise enough funds we want to give 50 mini snail farms to schools in areas where the children may not have the opportunity to play outside or bring living things into school.Commissioning teaching materials to go with the mini snail farms will be next on the agenda. But it all depends on getting the funds in and in turn that depends on all of you reading this blog.

Some people are organising fund-raising events for us, sponsored walks or coffee mornings or whatever you want to do really. But all donations are welcome; at this stage cheques payable to H&RH Escargots please and send to 18 St Vincents Close, Littlebourne, Canterbury Kent CT3 1TZ. After 22 September payments go through Indiegogo. Please pass on the message to all your friends, especially those who care about education. Thank you very much for your support.

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Roman invasion 2014

They're here! Every day I've been searching the Roman snail pen for signs of the hatchlings that I thought I ought to see. I was beginning to lose hope, thinking the weather conditions or something else had perhaps not been quite right but they were just teasing me.
baby Romans

Yesterday these long anticipated baby Romans appeared like little brown grains of sand along the seams of the netting in each corner of the pen. I've read that they spend quite a long time underground after hatching so I suppose that's where they've been as I'm pretty sure the eggs were laid weeks ago. I wanted to let this colony live as naturally as possible within the confines of their pen but I did leave them a present of a slice of marrow and some chopped up french beans. The pen is full of fresh lovely spinach which the adults are not eating and to be honest I'm not sure what they are eating except when I leave them a few titbits of vegetables and a sprinkling of powdered snail food. Let's hope they survive and grow - I've got my fingers firmly crossed.

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