Good to see escargots on the menu at truc vert. Many thanks for the recipe
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
When 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.
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:
Let's get this trending on twitter between us.
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:
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:
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.
2014 was quite year!
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!
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.
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.
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.
On Thursday we were invited in to Wickhambreaux primary school to the after school young gardeners club for a Meet the Snails event.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I've booked two Meet the Snails days for accompanied children aged 5 - 14 on August 2nd and 15th. They will be in the afternoon between 2 and 4 at Cherry Orchard Nature Reserve, Court Hill, Littlebourne and you can book through the online shop.
This week I met up with Emma Jenkins again and got updated on Kent Children's University @K_C_U. When we were at Brogdale, Slow Summer Snail Farm was a Learning Destination for members of KCU to gain credits in their passports. Having moved to the allotments we were ready to rejoin the wonderful process of engaging children in learning about living things.
Schools that join the scheme issue the children with Passports to Learning which record their achievements outside school. Lots of visitor attractions like Sissinghurst have activities that the children can do when they visit and get their passports stamped. Meet the Snails days will be worth two credits for children whose schools are members of the scheme. The children will have the chance to learn all about snails and you can enjoy our village nature reserve at the same time.
Watch out for the new series of Taste of Britain on BBC 1 in the autumn because we'll be in the Taste of Kent programme. Last week we were filming and fortunately the weather was kind. It was very good to meet Janet Street Porter and Brian Turner. When Janet is not on Loose Women she's writing columns for the Independent and the Daily Mail. I introduced Janet and Brian to the molluscs and then Brian did some cooking. You'll have to wait for the recipe but I can tell you it was delicious. We caused a bit of a stir at Littlebourne Allotments but peace was restored by the end of the afternoon. Then we had a tremendous thounderstorm that triggered some vigorous digging activity in the Roman snail pen.
This one has just started making a pit but this one has almost buried himself completely:
I'm keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that they were laying eggs! Now I'm just waiting to see if they hatch.
Aongside the serious business of farming, I'm keeping a small pen of Roman snails. These six beauties spent the winter in my fridge and now the mating and laying season for Roman snails has started, things are seriously hotting up. You may not share my fascination with snails but you have to admit this is some interesting behaviour I've captured in this shot. I'm pretty sure there's some serious flirting going on here, not a boxing match. All I need now is some eggs please.
I will just reiterate for the benefit of those who don't know, that Roman snails: Helix pomatia, are protected in Britain under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and must not be disturbed. My lovely specimens were imported from a reputable source in Italy and not collected from the wild. If you see Helix pomatia offered for sale you need to satisfy yourself that they are from a reputable source. In many other European countries where they occur they are semi-protected so that, for example, you can't collect during the laying season and mustn't take snails of a certain size so that the population is sustained.
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!
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:
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.
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 : firstname.lastname@example.org
Warm 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.
There's 400 snails in there - can you see them?
The latest wonderful publication courtesy of the Conchological Society is an illustrated guide to the land snails of the British Isles.
Haven't you always wanted to know what kind of snail that was eating your plants? Well here's just the thing for you. It's a laminated fold out strip with 9 pages of pictures and three pages of explanatory text. Did you know there were 99 species of snail living in the British Isles? The page I've photographed is the one with Helix pomatia - Roman snail, Helix lucorum - Turkish snail and Cornu aspersum - what we snail farmers still call Helix aspersa and what most people call the common snail - or some stronger vocabulary when it's destroying their garden. The pictures on this page helpfully show the difference between Cepaea nemoralis and Cepaea hortensis - those lovely stripey or coloured snails we see so often. It's so easy to get them mixed up. Nemoralis has a brown lip and hortensis has a white lip so most of the little snails in my garden I think are hortensis. I am sure you were just dying to know that!
I can't get used to May Day being moved to the nearest Monday but we tried to get into a gently festive mood yesterday. Littlebourne had what we call a fun day which started with stalls, games and loud pop music for the children in the tithe barn. In the afternoon we had an open day at our very small but beautifully formed nature reserve:
Lots of bat boxes and different sized nesting boxes on the trees and plenty of labels to tell everyone what everything is.
We've got two of these lovely bug hotels which are so sculpturally perfect that I think we need them even if they never get any 'guest's to stay
The pond is a major feature, crammed with dragon fly larvae, tadpoles, toadpoles and newtpoles each year. Is that what you call them?
Wendy Blanchet, our resident artist has workshops for the children a couple of times a year and these are some of their clay models. I thought the snail looked as if it had its shell on back to front but maybe I'm being difficult.
Note the pan of mulled cider on the gas stove in the foreground that helped the party go with a swing. There was also a barbecue on the go but the veggieburger's fell apart and had to be abandoned.
As far as the children were concerned the Hooden Horse was the highlight and if they don't looked scared it could be because they took it in turns to get inside and chase each other round. All over by 7pm and home to bed! A typical holiday in rural East Kent...
The Conchological Society publishes a fascinating magazine that goes by the wonderful name of Mollusc World. It is just the sort of magazine you should all have on your occasional table... well I think it's interesting anyway! One of the gems this time was a story about the novelist Patricia Highsmith. Apparently she was very fond of snails - alive not in garlic butter, and would often carry them around as companions in her handbag. She is said to have produced some at a dinner party and introduced them to the other guests when she was bored. I travelled up to London on the train today with a couple of dozen snails in my handbag and introduced them to a potential new customer - but I suppose that's different. I was conscious all the time that they were there, nestled between my A to Z and the obligatory folded umbrella but they kept quiet. They were fast asleep when I packed them but woke up on the way there - you can't expect a snail to keep quiet when it's raining outside.
Helix aspersa muller: 'petit gris'
Other gems from Mollusc World included a request from the author of a New Naturalist book on Slugs and Snails to be published next year, asking for information on their recorded speed of movement and those stories about snails being used to crawl over wounds after the battle of Crecy in the Hundred Years War. 'Answers on a postcard' please or email to email@example.com.
When I was woken in the middle of night by the crash of a snail hitting the floor from a great height I leapt out of bed in an instant. There was a mass breakout in the snail room and there were dozens of escapees all over the ceiling. I rushed about a bit but eventually gave up and went back to bed and lay there pondering about the use of snails to promote the healing of wounds.
Well if I'm honest I've got more than one weakness but asparagus is pretty near the top of the list. Delicious Kentish asparagus in April - who can resist it? I learnt about microwaving asparagus when I went to New Zealand. I used to think it had to be boiled for ages in a tall pan to get that lovely melting consistency. But washed and sandwiched between two plates it just takes a couple of minutes in the microwave and it doesn't seem to lose anything in flavour or texture. All I needed then was the butter.
Yesterday I was enjoying reading the latest from one of my favourite bloggers: the Single Gourmet Traveller about her guilty pleasures and tried to make my own list. I apologise for being boring but I couldn't think of any food that really made me feel guilty. I just like all the things that are good for me - fresh home grown fruit and vegetables and fish straight from the sea... well maybe 85% chocolate as well but that's not wicked is it?
I don't eat bluebells but I had to take a picture: