Sunday, June 21, 2009

Snail pace

When we were looking for a house to buy in south Italy, one of the offers had two, rather large and not particularly charming concrete holes in the backyard. Wondering what purpose these might serve, the broker claimed that those two holes might easily finance the entire house. In here, the owner farmed the local delicatessen lumache.

To demonstrate the enterprise, the owner raised a cover and showed heaps of snails. In Salento, lumache snails are seasonal treat in line with prawns, and if you are clever and industrious enough to establish your own farm, the snails will bring a good extra income when they are sold in the market at a high price per kilo.

But you don't get rich selling snails without making an effort. In nature, the snails stay hidden under large plant leaves throughout the day, and they only come out at night. On cold spring nights, snail lovers nap among the artichokes to grabs any snail that happens to pass by, and come morning, the bucket will be full. The snails are then installed in new concrete homes and fed with lettuce leaves, until their numbers have multiplied several times over.

In June, the harvest begins. The snails' houses are sealed with a lump of wax, so the soft animals stay put, while you take them to a suitable street corner, put up a sign saying lumache and wait for the customers to arrive. Personally, I've never felt tempted to buy a handful of snails, and I would not order a snail course in a restaurant, but perhaps it is just a matter of acquired taste. Serving snails with garlic and parsley might provide a solution to north European garden owners' problem with killer snails.

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