I can understand washing salad to get rid of mud and grit, a none too pleasant texture on a crisp leaf, but to get rid of the bug life? Madness! Many insects are believed (in proportion of course) to deliver twice the amount of protein that meat and fish can. I don’t suffer from an aversion to insects on my greens, in fact I welcome the added zest an aphid or ten can contribute to a bowl of salad…after all, protein ain’t cheap these days. One of the best things about the stinging nettle in early summer, is the added value from the cling-ons: though nettle beer doesn’t really need them, wild stinger pesto wouldn’t be the same without them.
Considering the insects make up 95% of all living creatures on this planet, it seems rather un-opportunist of us not to take advantage of such an abundant food source. What makes them most appealing (certainly if you were a Hunter-gatherer back in the Mesolithic era) is the fact that they are not that difficult to get your hands on, for example: it would be easier to dig up a worm than to unearth a rabbit (best of luck with that!).
The business of eating creepy crawlies is known as Entomophagy and is practiced by around 115 countries worldwide. Packed with calcium and protein, it seems odd that we don’t make more of insects in the West…if the Scot’s found a way to harvest and process the humble midge, both tourism and export would grow considerably! In the Far East, they have little more to do than hang a UV light on the porch and wait for supper to come to them.
I won’t delve into the world of foreign bug munching (locusts, spiders, grubs, scorpions etc), I am only interested on what is on my doorstep. The Issue for us is all down to preconceptions: The thought of eating insects IS abhorrent to most of us, yet we will happily chow down on lobsters, crabs, prawns and shrimp…but there is another member of the family Crustacea in our back yards in their 1000’s that are left well alone: The Woodlouse.
The woodlouse is not difficult to get your hands on, peel off any rotten bark, turn over and plant pot and a bevy of battleship grey, armor-plated wood lice will dash for cover. After collecting these mini-beasts for the recipe that follows, I grew rather fond of their antics, and decided to learn a little more about them:
- They can live up to 2 years.
- Their body is divided into 14 segments.
- They only eat decaying leaf and plant matter.
- They are part of the Crustacean family.
- They can’t walk in a straight line…not merely an observation, but fact!
It can be said that I will eat most things. True. I suppose the only answer I can give is “Why not?” If something is foul beyond measure, you can simply tick it of the wish list and never have to deal with the unfortunate event again…but I wouldn’t tarnish the humble woodlouse with the “nil by mouth ever again” brush. There is a very fine publication called “Why not eat Insects?” By Vincent M. Holt, first published in 1885, it was designed to encourage the poorer people of the nation to tuck into insects, although I’m not sure how much impact it really had. I would recommend getting a copy (although you can read it online here) if not for practical reasons, then having it on the kitchen side for shock value when hosting a dinner party will suffice.
So I took the plunge…or rather: the woodlice did.
After boiling a bunch for 2 minutes, I gingerly raised a single, drained morsel to my lips, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the shrimp-like flavor I had been expecting…only slightly sweeter with a tad more crunch. They were surprisingly good, we’ve been missing out! After much deliberation over how to put this woodland delicacy into a more appetizing package, I decided to forgo fritters and pancakes and looked to the treatment of their ocean-dwelling cousins for inspiration- potted shrimp. Except this would be potted Wood-shrimp.
"Waiter, there's a...ummm"
Potted wood shrimp.
(Serves 1- unlikely you will get anyone else to have a go!)
- 25g of woodlice
- 50g of salted butter
- A pinch of finely chopped lemon zest
- Smidgen of nutmeg
- Smidgen of cayenne pepper
- Twist of black pepper
Collect the woodlice from anywhere dark and dry: under plant pots, woodpiles and beneath rotten bark. Find a good spot and you will be amazed at how quickly you can get 25grams-worth. Grab them between thumb and fore finger, this is a sustainable, humane method as only the biggest can be plucked, leaving the undersized to woodlice to reach the edible stage of its life!
Remove any grit by shaking the woodlice in a sieve and then drop into boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.
Slowly melt the butter in a pan and add the zest, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper followed by the woodlice. Pour the mixture into a small ramekin and place in the fridge till set (30 mins).
I served mine with toasted brown bread, and a wild salad consisting of: Sorrel, bittercress, dandelion leaves, finely chopped wild garlic and primrose flowers. As my pine needle vinegar was ready I made a simple dressing of 1 part vinegar, 1 part oil and a little salt, sugar and pepper. Spring in a bowl.
We have all eaten insects before, but probably not known about it. You can’t get rid of every little critter from a bag of salad unless you are ridiculously anal and this is probably why salad is so good for you- added, unseen protein. The ironic thing is: thousands are spent on pesticides annually to remove something that has more nutritional value than the plant that it is meant to be protecting...oh, and apparently, on average, we eat 7 spiders in our sleep every year, so there you go.
Why eat insects? Well, why not…
Not sure whether this sign I spotted on a country lane was meant for humans or pheasants. Are game birds that dangerous?