Entocuisine: A Passion for Wilder Edibles

0013729e4abe0bb544562cby Paul Landkamer –
Guest Blogger – Show Me Oz

Several years back, a distinguished-looking lady came into our library with some questions. Her formal, quiet school-teacherish (which she was) manner seemed in stark contrast to her request for information on fried grasshoppers and sources of supply. When she made her request, I remembered buying chocolate-covered ants, bees, grasshoppers and caterpillars back in the early ’70s when our Golden Valley, MN Byerly’s carried ’em. Byerly’s doesn’t carry them anymore. The teacher’s request didn’t shock me like it did some. It turned out the teacher was going to serve fried grasshoppers to some of the more daring teachers for a back-to-school function or something like that –quite possibly in remembrance of the big Warrensburg grasshopper feast from my earlier post. Several librarians and I jumped on the project.

As a result of our hunt, the school teacher ended up buying two packages of hoppers (and I’m still trying to find out from where) and only used about half of one. She remembered our eagerness to find information and offered the library the leftovers. Only one of us (guess who) was adventurous enough to take her up on the offer. She didn’t want any payment –only to get them off her hands.

The researching introduced me to websites and several books, which seemed to taunt me with, “I dare you to pursue this!” And here I am, unashamed, but on occasion, a little hesitant to admit, I’ve tried entomophagy, and am recognizing the potential in it.

Those commercially procured grasshoppers of the teacher’s, though much larger than the ones in my yard, didn’t impress me with their flavor or texture. Maybe they were fried in lard or shortening. Maybe they’d have been better with seasoning. I finished the open pack, and about half the other pack. The remainder ended up getting thrown out because I had no idea how long they stayed fresh. Over the months it took to reach that point, I’d looked at several of the books and websites we found while doing the original research.

Entomophagy is not just about fried grasshoppers and chocolate-covered stuff. One book, and I can’t remember the author or title, explained how the author had been researching entomophagy. On a trout-fishing trip, he ran into a huge hatch of mayflies and wondered what the trout found so good about ’em. He tried one, then another, and ended up laying his fishing equipment down and eating his fill of mayflies. Of course, shortly after reading that, I was mowing on my tractor and my own yard happened to be quite thick with mayflies. I tried ’em too, and for quite some time, mayflies weren’t safe around me.

During my early time of entomophagy experimentation, I discovered I like raw mayflies and young grasshoppers. Older hoppers were a bit too strongly flavored for me. In a recent book I read, the author pointed out something that should have been obvious to me. Eating uncooked insects poses the same threats of disease and parasites as eating under and uncooked meats of other types. I pondered that thought and my raw insect-eating days were all but over.

One day, not long after giving up raw “bugs” (entomologically incorrect, but etymologically correct, as “Eat-A-Bug’s” David George Gordon points out), I ran across a bunch of tomato worms on my in-laws’ tomato plants. “The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook” has a recipe for Fried Green Tomato Hornworms, so I collected all I could find from those plants. I only got about a dozen. They ranged in size from about an inch and a half to almost four inches long. My wife humored me and didn’t protest, even though she knew what I was up to. A month or so earlier, she only smiled (and maybe rolled her eyes) as she peeked into a frying pan to catch me dry-roasting some grasshoppers, which ultimately found their way powdered into a hoppin’-good hot sauce. The day after the tomato worm find, I caught several grasshoppers, a cicada, and a couple field crickets. I finally had enough critters to make another attempt at edible insects.

After killing the snack by freezing, I thawed ’em out while tossing them in soy sauce. I cut up some white onion and sweet-pickled ripe jalapenos (from my garden) and heated up a bit of olive oil. In went the critters and they sizzled up a storm as the water steamed out. A couple of the tomato worms burst, so I adjusted the heat and kept on frying and stirring until the grasshoppers turned deep red-brown and the worms turned almost yellow. Then I stirred in the vegetables and continued until they were nicely browned.

I must admit I was quite pleasantly impressed at the outcome! Aside from the oniony, sweet and hot, salty flavors from the other ingredients, which was really quite good, the individual critters had flavors and textures all their own. In many books, you’ll read of “nutty” and “smoky” flavors. The tomato worms didn’t have that. They were quite similar to thin tubes of thick pea soup. The mere bulk of “stuff” in a tomato worm may take some getting used to, but they’re really not all that bad. The cicada tasted and felt like a nut stew inside a big sunflower seed shell. I couldn’t get the shell chewed, so, like a piece of gum that’d lost its flavor, I spit the shell out. The grasshoppers were, like most people say, smoky and nutty in flavor. I particularly liked the light and crispy texture. Finally, the crickets were most impressive, like crispy, smoked oyster. They were great!

Check out Paul’s blog for more great information on wild edibles!

Like when I get a good batch of kimchi, pickles, pepper brownies or jalapeno cookies, I had to bring a big sample to friends to share. I’d already picked out my intended victim, due to her reaction to the hoppin’good hot sauce a couple weeks earlier. When I asked if anyone was interested in my latest experiment, I said, “It’s not the hoppin’ good hot sauce that had the powdered grasshoppers in it.” She said she didn’t like the idea of hot stuff, but the grasshopper part sounded interesting. Be careful what you say, specially if you’re only trying to humor someone. You never know when it may come back to you.

Within minutes, I brought in the previous night’s leftover stir-fry, having to fight myself not to eat it all up, so I could share it. My first victim looked nervous as she said, “I thought you’d maybe bring it in in a couple days, not just a minute or two.” She didn’t want an audience for her first entomophagous attempt, so I suggested we slip off to the break room. There was someone else in the break room, so we had an audience, but still not a big one. The audience was also one who tries most of my other stuff –but not this.

After looking into the stir-fry, the victim said, “Ew, I don’t want to try a tomato worm!” I poked the chopsticks in and pulled out a grasshopper. She asked, “What’s THAT?” The legs and wings were gone, and it looked similar to a long, shiny raisin.  I told her it’s a grasshopper and her face went into a skeptical twist as she slowly extended her hand. I think she might have even given a little shiver as the morsel hit her hand. She put it in her mouth and slowly began to chew. Her eyes got big and she started to smile and said, “Oh my gosh! That was good!” She eagerly accepted another, bigger hopper. The response from later adventurous eaters has all been positive.

On my way to make a book-delivery to one of our library branches, I stopped at my favorite convenience store for my soda refill. Some of the guys who work there eagerly try my concoctions. One of them likes my experiments well enough that he gets his own bottle of most. As I walked in, I asked if anyone felt adventurous. The new guy said, “If it’s anything like that kimchi I tried, I’m game!” I said, “This stuff isn’t hot at all,” and for a second or two, silence fell. The old-timer with my culinary goodies broke the silence with a hesitating, “What’s in it?” “Well, aside from soy sauce, onions, and a bit of those pickled jalapenos, there’s critters.”

The new guy said, “Whoa, not me! I’m skittish enough around bugs.” I said, “It’s your chance to take revenge.” He didn’t go for it, but Old-Timer said, “You know, I’d heard of eating insects and have been meaning to try it some time.” I said I had grasshoppers and tomato hornworms. Old-Timer laughed and said no tomato worm for him, but he’ll try a grasshopper.

Old-Timer started chewing and he put up his hand, saying, “Mmmm, Hmmm”, between chews. “It tastes like… like… I can’t quite put my finger on it… It’s not bad…” Then I told the guys about the cicada and cricket. New Guy said he’d have tried a cricket “because they’re little.” Neither of them was disappointed that I’d already eaten the cicada.

Since then, I’d experienced catching grasshoppers by flashlight on a cool night is quite like picking berries. New Guy also asked me to bring some grasshoppers again because he was ready to try them.

0013729e4abe0bb544572eThe other day, I called a bluff. Two ladies who work at one of the libraries I deliver to said they were interested in trying my entocuisine. I brought in part of batch number two. This time there were no tomato worms or cicadas, but it included peach-pit meats, which are very almond-like. One of the ladies declined after seeing the bowl, but the other didn’t back down or even hesitate.

I ate one hopper while telling about the adapted recipe, as one patron who looked into the bowl staggered off with her hands fluttering like a butterfly, shuddering and repeating, “Ew, ew, ew.” Daring Librarian had a cricket and the patron “Ew”ed again. Then Daring Librarian had a grasshopper, saying, “These are really good, though I’m most partial to crickets.” Another “Ewww!” was heard in the distance. We didn’t eat it all, so I had a fair bulk of leftovers for dinner.

While camping the following weekend, I was reading my Bible by lantern-light and a big grasshopper hit me in the chest. I picked it off and gently tossed it to the weeds. Another bounced off my head and landed in the Book. I only smiled as it hopped off into the dark. Before this, I’d probably have absent-mindedly squished ’em. The next day, again, while reading, a big ant crawled along the edge of the table and I reached out, tapped it with a finger and popped it in my mouth. I realized what I’d done, and glanced around to see if anyone saw me. I think I got away with it. Ants are tart!

So now, as I drive around on my library delivery routes and scan the countryside, it hits home all the harder how abundantly God has provided for us. Am I ready to throw caution to the wind and be a hunter-gatherer? No way! I like my metal pans, freezers, refrigerators, stove and oven, my car, and other benefits of civilization. Those, too, are gifts of God. Running water’s nice, too, as is the Internet where you’re likely reading this.

© 2011 Paul Landkamer.  His original article entitled, The Gross-Out Article, or How I Got Started, has been published here with Permission from the Author.

Images from another interesting article on entocuisine: “Worming Your Way to Health” from China Daily.com  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/photo/2009-07/01/content_8348055.htm

Paul Landkamer

Guest Blogger Paul Landkamer, is a retired USAF veteran from Minnesota.  He currently lives and works in Warrensburg, MO, with his wife, Becky.  His interest in entomophagy (the edibility of insects) began when he was just a boy.  His childhood curiosity has become a full-blown passion and you can read more about it on his blog Torvald Yamaguchi’s Lutefisk and Sushi Bar or visit his Facebook group Wild Edibles of Missouri.

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2 responses to “Entocuisine: A Passion for Wilder Edibles

  1. I thought they tasted like chocolate covered potato chips, both the ants and the grasshoppers!

  2. I know insects are packed with protein, but I’ve never tried them. In Thailand I came close to trying grilled crickets on a stick (a favorite Thai snack) and in Laos, I came very close to trying a very large fried spider at a bus stop. I was calling the lady with the platter over and just as she got close, she ladled some kind of liquid over the top and I just couldn’t do it! A large crunchy spider seemed doable, but not a juicy one…

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