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snails

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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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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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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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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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Makegood Festival

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I'm just beginning to feel almost human again after spending a frenetic four days with the molluscs at Makegood Festival in the Old Selfridges Hotel promoting snail eating. It was definitely worthwhile going because of the interest the escargots sparked in all the trade visitors especially, but it was exhausting!

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Miss Papercut (Steph Hosmer) was there demonstrating the way she works to produce those gorgeous images. Steph designed my lovely new business cards and suite of colours and fonts for the new website. So I've asked her to help with the design of some new packaging - looking forward to some lovely curly snail patterns.

I'm always interested to see new small food businesses and Sweet Victory is well on the way to getting started:

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Georgina has tapped into that nostalgia for wartime combined with the resurgent passion for baking so evident in today's TV programmes. We met Frances Quinn the winner of the 2013 Great British Bake Off over the weekend too as she was chairing a panel of food entrepreneurs. Georgina is planning to produce a range of baking kits so you can make heritage recipes at home.

ImageThe first range of historical cakes are based on 1940's recipes taken from sources such as Ministry of Food leaflets tweaked a little to suit modern tastes.

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I tried the Carrot rock cakes and enjoyed them very much. It took me back to cookery lessons at school and my pathetic attempts - somehow my rock cakes always ended up hard and inedible but Georgina's were delicious. If you want to know more contact Georgina Coveney by email : georginacoveney@gmail.com

 

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The first intrepid molluscs venture out

ImageWarm weather has arrived - don't anybody remind of the summers when we've had snow in June - I don't want to know! The first of this year's babies has ventured out and Snow Summer Snail Farm is re-opened causing great excitement at Littlebourne Allotments. On the day I arived with the first trolley loads of boxes I was conscious of a certain frisson in the air as I unloaded and gradually more and more people came round to have a look, reassuring themselves no doubt that the fortifications were strong enough to prevent escape. I'm pleased to say the vegetation has grown well with regular watering and now it's started raining again I'm sure the molluscs will think they've gone to heaven.

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There's 400 snails in there - can you see them?

 

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Even the snails have a spring in their step!

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Cowslips on Barham Downs! When the sun's out you can almost overlook the grey sludge on the village green left by the receding flood. Most of the roads have re-opened now the big blue water pipes have nearly all gone home. There's a few cellars still being pumped out and we're told the River Nailbourne will probably be running across all those normally dry fords until June. Come to think of it - if anyone's looking for a business idea, I imagine flood rescue is booming.

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It's amazing the effect on the spirits of a row of treees covered in pink blossom. But that unobtrusive dark green box is the significant feature of this picture. It's a telecommunications junction box. We had to put up with traffic lights in the most inconvenient place while 'they' dug up the road but I'm told it's all going to be worth it. At last, our4 broadband service might improve! And you can't sell escargots without the internet.But the molluscs seem to have other things on their minds at the moment. Let's hope we get lots of little babies.  

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Snails feature in Staff Canteen

You know a food has really made it when it is featured in Staff Canteen and today it's snails! http://www.thestaffcanteen.com/editorial/snails-the-food-of-the-future

When I heard the feature was coming up I spent a whole day with www.little_and_loud creating a brand new website. There was quite a lot of preparation before hand. First I decided to use the curvy stylised snail from my book cover designed by http://www.jdsmith-design.com/

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and then http://misspapercut.com/ created some colourways for the logo and chose a font. She went for lovely subtle fired earth colours and the green on green in particular looks very 'Harrods' - just perfect for an upmarket product. This time we went for a simple site so that busy chefs can find what they want easily http://www.hrh-escargots.co.uk/ but we're keeping the original website too http://www.snailfarm.org.uk/ because it serves a different purpose.

They asked me for some recipes so I asked Chef Craig Mather at East Kent College if I could give them his recipe for snails with fish. He agreed and I told them that it was his recipe not mine but they still put it in as mine - hope he forgives me! Happy days!

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A fine romance ... for snails

As it is Valentine's Day I thought I'd better write an appropriate post. Last year I joined the Conchological Society and I really enjoy reading the articles in Molluscan World. Last November there was an article describing the behaviour of a scalariform Cepaea nemoralis:

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Rosemary Hill acquired this beautiful snail with its extended shell, named Curly, from a garden centre, looked after it and observed its behaviour. What she observed was some interesting activity that seemed to be a preparation for attracting a mate. The first one, shell cleaning is something I've seen my snails doing. They stretch their bodies right out and round so they can clean the shell. It's amazing that Curly managed to reach the tip of hers. The other activity was what she called 'hanging around' where the snail climbs up to a high place and just hangs there as though waiting for a mate to pass by. It's a long time since I was a teenager but I seem to remember it involved quite a lot of dressing up and hanging around in public places hoping someone would notice. I wonder if the snail is doing something like that too. Hanging about is certainly something else I've seen my snails doing.

ImageNormally if a snail gets upside down it holds on tight with the shell pressed up against the surface but this is different - lots of the foot is on show - very 'come hither' I'd say. Maybe its stretching things too far to describe this as romance but it's tempting especially today.

By the way, Curly did mate and lay eggs and none of the babies had scalariform shells - they were all a normal shape.

(Molluscs World is the magazine of the Conchological Society. The article 'A scalariform Cepaea nemoralis' by Rosemary Hill was an article in last November's edition)

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Slow Summer Snail Farm on the move!

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This is an exciting moment ... yes really! This empty plot of ground is going to be transformed over the next few weeks into Slow Summer Snail Farm. We had to move out of our happy home at Brogdale with it's lovely fruit harvest and find another place. Three years ago I first approached the Parish Council in Littlebourne to ask if I could keep snails on an allotment and after a great deal of thought they agreed. Under the Allotments Act, you can keep chickens, rabbits and bees on an allotment without special permission - but for any other livestock you have to get their agreement. The primary purpose of allotments must be for growing food of course - if you keep rabbits they've got to be for eating. I'm already half way through moving the snail pens from Faversham but it wasn't until yesterday that I got the exciting news there was a plot I could have. January is the time of year when allotment holders have pay their modest rent, so I guess that's when many decide they just haven't got the time or energy to grow their own food in the way they had hoped. What seems like such a good idea on a balmy day in Spring or summer turns into a chore when it won't stop raining.

The ground is nice and flat so the first thing I've got to do is put down week suppressant fabric to stop it getting overgrown. Then the pens go on top. We're going to need the wire mesh pens to keep out predators here just as much as at Brogdale - there's been a plague of foxes killing chickens and I'm certain there will be hedgehogs, mice and shrews ... and who knows what else! So planning is well underway and I'm just delighted to have the snails so close to home for this summer.

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Snails like rain ...but not this much!

ImageLittlebourne village green where there is normally no water at all... see the top of the seat where you can sit on a summer's day and eat your picnic? It's quite difficult to travel around because so many roads are closed and the pavements are an obstacle course of blue pipes pumping water out of the houses. The fire engines are out in force round every corner and the cellar of the newly refurbished pub is full to the brim. The signs up everywhere remind us to keep our pets and children away because it's not just water, water everywhere but diluted sewage.

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Watercress is a local delicacy and now I suppose we are finding out why. This is the road to Garrington - and the watercress farm. I'm just so glad I live up the hill.

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Hibernation

Wouldn't you sometimes like to disappear under the duvet and not come out till its all over?

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I do think snails have got the right idea about the way to spend winter. Hibernation certainly seems like a good solution when the rain keeps pouring down and everything's blowing about and trees falling down.

I have lots of lovely snail gifts over the seven years that they've been part of my life. They've mostly been snail ornaments: snail ornaments small The white china snail was given to me by a friend who was throwing stuff away that she didn't want. It was going to the charity shop but she offered it to me first. It's a curious creature with a face like a llama complete with eyes in the wrong place of course. It says bone china Coalport underneath and though I am slightly repelled by its grotesque appearance, throwing it out would be like treading on it. I can just hear the crunch. I found the wire snail at a jumble sale and had to buy it because of the crown on its head. I made an exception when I bought the wooden snail because I always try to buy British and this was made in Thailand but it's so well carved I like it very much. It was the inspiration for commissioning a local wood carver to make me some more. He hand carved a group from sycamore and oak that I put onto my stall at events. I bought them to resell but I don't want to part with any of them.The stars of the show are the glass snails - both presents from close friends. The blue one came at Christmas time a few years ago and has suffered the loss of an antenna. But I can almost believe that it has touched something and retracted temporarily. The green glass snail glows when the sun is low on the horizon, sitting as she does in pride of place leading her flock across the kitchen window sill.

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@ScoffQuaff radio with Jules and Chives and Steve

What a morning! Sun shining down on the marsh and there we were at Haguelands with Channel Radio.

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Jules Serkin was our hostess creating that party atmosphere in the studio and here she is in the picture looking serious beside Paul Andrews @vanillawebb a former Kent entrepreneur of the year who owns the station. This Tuesday 11 - 12 programme is all about food and if you missed it you can catch it again on Saturday.

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This time it's Graham Green with Debbie from Chives at Broome Park with John in the background. Grahma talked about how he came over from Australia for a couple of weeks and stayed. Steve from award winning @Elmcourtfmmrket was also talking about all the stalls he's got coming to sell their local produce this week.

The snails performed beautifully while we talked but of course their charm was wasted as the listeners couldn't see them unless they followed us on twitter. Performing snails are not very good radio but I did get a chance to promote Molluscs and Me the book..

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Colombian Rondon with snails!

I couldn't pass the opportunity to look up an entirely new recipe for serving snails - well new to me, though I think this recipe has been around a long time. It all started when I got tweeting with @sofiabaguley. Sofia is Colombian and is giving the lucky people of Kent the chance to try Colombian food. She's offering a takeway service from her home on a Friday night in Tunbridge Wells. For the whole Colombian experience you can join her on a Saturday night once a month at one of her dinner parties: (http://www.sofiascolombiankitchen.co.uk/).

So let's get down to the details. Rondon seems to be one of those dishes like minestrone soup or a balti which you can throw anything into a basic mix that gives it that special flavour. Like a lot of Colombian food it shows strong Caribbean and European influences. Rondon is a thick  soup and on the island of San Andres it is made with with peppery coconut milk, and lots of fish with snails, yucca, plantain, and "domplines", a type of flour tortilla. It all looks very exciting.

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With snails and I

One the first day of the Apple Festival at Brogdale - the day 'Molluscs and Me' the paperback got launched, a friend suggested I should have called it 'With Snails and I' - rather witty I thought! Here's me launching it:

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It doesn't look as though it was actually raining at that particular moment but, as it usual on Festival Days, the rest of the time it was.Indoors it was apples as far as the eye could see and a long line of people with strange apples in their hands waiting to get them identified.

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I managed to get away from the stall long enough to get some photos of some fellow stallholders but i was kept pretty busy on Saturday with visitors wanting to know more about snails.

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It was good to see Bessie's caravan there so I was guaranteed my fix of green tea and a slice of some wonderful apple, blackberry and almind cake. She was undercover too so need to get wet while feasting.

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Corinne was there as usual with her Creative Kitchen curries. One thing I value when I've been out all day talking about snails is the chance to take home a delicious curry so I can put my feet up instead of cooking. Putting up and taking down a market stall, getting everything in and out of the car, and standing up all day in between is quite exhausting. After a while in the onslaught of the relentless rain, the stall cover started to leak and drip on me and the books. It sagged as it filled with water and then when the wind got underneath it suddenly emptied itself down the necks of the passers - by. Not very good for customer relations! Perhaps next time it won't rain.

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Dogs and snails

It's August so there are lots of snail stories about again. This week it's about snails being responsible for spreading lungworm to dogs. The article in each newspaper is almost identical so I suppose they must have simply reprinted the press release from Exeter University. It came with beautiful illustrations of sparkling Led lights on snails wandering around in the dark so that was a bonus. It's only the headline that's different depending on the style of newspaper concerned and mostly focused on the idea that snails were spreading lung disease amongst dogs.  At least Radio 4 didn't make a crisis out of a simple piece of ecological research that apparently just watched snails moving about.Image

If you want to understand parasites you need to know the whole life cycle. This parasitic worm affects foxes as well as dogs - though, importantly, it doesn't affect humans. I looked up Angiostrongylus vasorum to try and find out its life cycle. According to Wikipaedia - not always a reliable source for scientific information but this looks like a reasonable article - foxes are thought to be a reservoir for the disease. If you think about it rationally for a moment, snails we know have a homing instinct implying they don't travel far. Foxes on the other hand would range over a much wider area infecting lots of slugs, snails and other internediate hosts. Slugs and snails get infected because the larvae of the worm burrow into the mollusc's foot. Perhaps foxes are more important as an agent that spreads the infection from place to place. But dog hygiene has got to be an important factor too. If you let your dog defaecate all over the place, is it any wonder that molluscs get infected too? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angiostrongylus_vasorum) One message that seemed to come from the research is not to leave dog toys out in the garden overnight. But the research is said to have been funded by Bayer Health with the aim of investigating lungworm so I can't help thinking there had to be more to it than just watching snails wandering about.

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Taking snails to market

>When I started to look for farmer’s markets I found that nearly every village or town in Kent had one. In theory, it looked as though you could make a living travelling from one to the next, without the commitment and overheads of a shop. But so much depended on the fickleness of the crowd: their decision on whether to go, and their frame of mind if they did, were vital to my profit margin. Negotiating with market organisers wasn’t easy either: with most I had to wait to be invited. It's quite easy for the molluscs and me to get an invitation as we’re offering something unique, but the fees are often too high to be able to make a profit. So next time you dine out on free samples, think for a moment about the poor stall holder who probably had to get up at 5am and is just trying to make a living.

I have pitched my stall in every unsuitable place and ghastly weather imaginable: by a cliff top bandstand in a force seven, in muddy puddles and snowdrifts, alongside a filthy gutter full of cigarette ends, on cobbles outside a strip club in Soho and on a pebbly car park in the pouring rain behind a village pub. But is it any better on sunny days? Sun brings the crowds out but if you are selling perishable goods, hot weather can be more of a problem than cold. And the snails don’t like it hot and dry. The molluscs always come with me and join in the jolly fun but by midday we’ve usually both had enough and just want to curl up and go back to sleep. But every time I think this is going to be the one where the customers want to buy my wares. So it’s off to Beckenham this Saturday to Copers Cope Market on the Green, with car loaded to the roof again and fingers firmly crossed.

http://coperscope.wordpress.com/market-on-the-green/ with 34 stalls, a fun fair and free entertainment from 10am to 4pm Saturday 3 August

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The book cover design revealed

I’m very pleased to be able to reveal the book cover designed by Jane Dixon Smith at JD Smith Design.(www.facebook.com/janedixonsmith; www.facebook.com/jdsmithdesign; www.jdsmith-design.com.) Molluscs and Me Cover small

I’m not very good at making decisions and it was really hard to make my mind about the cover. We started with a collection of very different images from cartoon snails to accurate pen and ink drawings. In the end, every time I had a choice to make between a number of options I asked my writer colleagues in the Kent Nanowrimo group. They were so helpful because they didn’t have the same emotional attachment to the design and could tell me which images best conveyed the content of the book. I was quite taken with some of the cartoon snails but they told me they conveyed the idea that the book was aimed at children. When Jane added a food image they immediately told me it was the one that would attract them to pick it up and look inside. As one person put it: ‘It’s very clear from this image that the book is about a woman with an unhealthy obsession with snails.’!

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