The perfect day for a picnic … if you’re a #snail

Last time the sun was out I invited the molluscs to a picnic. I took the food and they variously engaged in enjoying it. The courgette glut has already started, the carrots bright and sweet, and I’ve planted so many climbing French beans that there’s plenty for all of us. The beans have to be split lenthwise of course because they mostly like the nice soft lining of the pod. I slice everything else up to avoid open warfare.

picnicSome remembered their table manners and sat decorously each side of the table nibbling at a succulent piece of courgette as though they were at the vicar’s tea party.

picnic1

Others threw caution and good manners to the winds and obviously decided that he who ate fastest got most!

picnic 2

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Escargot are go

Good to see escargots on the menu at truc vert. Many thanks for the recipe

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Baby snails venturing outdoors #nationalescargotday

Sunday 24th May is National Escargot Day and the weather is good enough for the babies to go outside at last. Just keep your fingers crossed we don’t get a late frost. The plants in the pens have grown really well just in the last week or two. I’ve got a mix of self-seeded perpetual spinach like last year but also broccoli and oil seed rape. I tried planting the rape last year so I would have good sized vegetation earlier but it didn’t germinate.

#Note to self: plant oil seed rape earlier this year!

venturing out May 2015
If you’ve never tried eating snails then Cafe Rouge have a special offer on Sunday. Just go in and ask and they’ll give you a sample pot of their delicious escargots to taste #rougesnails. Now there’s an opportunity you can’t refuse!

But there’s a lot more to snails than garlic butter. I’m sure I’ve already given you my recipe for snail pizza in Molluscs and Me but if you haven’t seen it just improvise. We matched the soft cooked snails with purple sprouting broccoli. But it could be asparagus as that’s in season now and then we added blue cheese. I’m a goat’s cheese fan and I really like to support UK food producers so instead of gorgonzola, I’ve got some Ribblesdale blue in my fridge which is just as creamy smooth and delicious. It’s a wonderful combination.

Happy National Escargot Day to you all!

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10 tips for preparing for an exhibition

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.

H&RH Escargots BoxH&RH Mini Snail Farm Box

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.

P1000203

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:

Dusty 05.08.10

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.

seedlings April 2015

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.

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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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UK’s first snail sommelier @CafeRougeTweet

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To celebrate the launch of their new menu Cafe Rouge appointed me the UK’s first snail sommelier and asked me to help promote their new dish Ragout d’Escargots. Snails go very well with mushrooms and I predict the addition of truffle oil will make it irresistible.

Snails are so good for you! They don’t store fat – though serving them in lashings of garlic butter probably cancels that out. But they are solid protein and full of good things like trace elements and vitamins.

Sommelier is a lovely word that I just had to look up. You probably associate it with wine but in Japan it is linked with other good things to eat. There you will find beer, sake and even vegetable sommeliers. I have read that they also apply the term to other sorts of experts such as music: in Japan you could be a music sommelier. But the derivation is so old that the modern usage has moved a long way from it. In Middle French it is associated with the transportation of supplies and dates back to a time when transport of goods used pack animals like donkeys. So in old Provencal a saumalier was a pack animal driver. I like the sound of that.

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#Footballingsnails You’ve got to watch this one!

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:

Footballing snails

Let’s get this trending on twitter between us.

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Breakfast in bed for the molluscs

muller 1

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:

muller 2

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:

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.

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Welcome to 2015 from the molluscs and me

2014 was quite year!

Fireworks Show

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!

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@BBCGoodFood Show #GFSwinter

Winter Bursary

Sometimes you just have to boast! In two weeks time Rachel and I will be putting the finishing touches to our stand at the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC Birmingham.

photo snails eating

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.

H&RH Mini Snail Farm Box

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.

H&RH Escargots Box

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.

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