Perhaps the last thing a gardener needs is more snails, but these culinary delights are setting the latest trend for the British smallholder.
Demand for edible home grown molluscs is no longer moving at a ‘snail’s pace’.
Popularity for Escargot has gathered speed as more people try their hand at nurturing and cooking with snails.
Snail farming in Britain is booming with grow-your-own enthusiasts adding escargots to their burgeoning smallholder collection of home-grown and home-reared livestock.
Helen Howard, who runs an edible snail farming business with her daughter in Kent and Staffordshire, said:
“We have seen a huge increase in demand in recent years. The market is expanding, not only from chefs and enthusiastic cooks who want fresh local produce that tastes better than anything you can get out of a tin or from the freezer, but there is now a growing band of snail smallholders.
“Scout groups and school children are cooking snails over the campfire with wild garlic and herbs as part of survival training courses inspired by Bear Grylls’ bush adventures. And we get requests for packs of fresh snails from people staging dinner parties.”
There are currently around five commercial snail farms in Britain but more are in the pipeline.
Helen from Slow Summer Snail Farm runs courses for people interested in becoming snail farmers and her visits to local schools support the science curriculum.
“There’s a demand from people who want to change their lifestyle or those who have been made redundant and are keen to start their own business. We also encourage smallholders to rear their own at home by providing books and courses on how to house and rear edible snails.”
Helen rears the fruit-fed Helix aspersa maxima edible snail, described as the Gloucester Old Spot Pig of the snail world. Picked for its flavour and size, the snails live outside in the summer and feed on over-ripe fruit at Brogdale Farm, home of the National Fruit Collection.
“Our mini snail farms with six cute babies and everything you need to look after them make an ideal educational gift for children or a starting point for ‘Grow Your Own Food’ fans.”
Helen who will be showcasing her snails and farming methods at UK’s only national event dedicated to grow-your-own, The Edible Garden Show 2012 at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire on March 16-18, hopes to resolve the misapprehensions surrounding snails.
“People often have a misconception when it comes to the origins of edible snails. They were introduced to Britain by the Romans and so eating snails became part of our cultural heritage 2,000 years ago. In the Middle- Ages, monasteries in Britain grew their own snails so they were able to feast on the creatures during Lent when eating meat was forbidden.
“Today they are regarded as a Lenten food in the Czech Republic and other Central European countries and they are served up in top Prague restaurants in the run up to Christmas.
“Snails are tasty, nutritious and very healthy. I urge people to put aside their bias and give them a go. Gardeners, this is a chance to get your own back – if they are a nuisance, eat them!”