This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
The "poor man's oyster" is so appreciated by the French that Paris alone consumes some forty-nine tons daily, the best kind coming from Grenoble or Burgundy. The finest specimens are carefully reared in an escargotiere, or snail-park, such as the poor Capuchin monks planned in bygone days at Colmar and Weinbach, when they had no money to buy food, and so cultivated snails. But the majority are collected by the vine-dressers in the evening from stone heaps, where the snails have assembled to enjoy the dew. The creatures are then starved in a dark cellar for two monthsj and when they have closed up the aperture of their shells, are ready for cooking. According to the true Burgundy method, they are boiled in five or six waters, extracted from the shell, dressed with fresh butter and garlic, then replaced in the shell, covered with parsley and bread-crumbs, and finally simmered in white wine. "Snail farms" have been introduced in Switzerland, where many gardens round Davos and Land-guart, in the Grisons, are used for the sole cultivation of that Continental delicacy, escargots de Bour-gogne. A recent authority states that enormous quantities of snails are forwarded annually fromMar-eilles and Genoa to Paris, and that tens of thousands ind their way to the markets of Bordeaux, Lyons, Vienna, and Munich. Such is the demand, that many persons now "cultivate" snails for the markets, and find the business a remunerative one.
As many as twenty or thirty thousands can be bred in a very small space. A damp and shady nook is selected for the "park," and the prisoners are kept within bounds by the simple contrivance of sawdust and brambles. This does very well in dry weather, but when it rains, the farmer's wife and children must be constantly on the alert to turn back the runaways. The Viennese are the greatest snail-eaters in the world. The town of Ulm, on the Danube, is the principal place where snails are fattened for the market,and those which are picked from the strawberry-beds command the highest prices. Importation of snails for American consumption is said to be steadily increasing every year. Snails are obtainable at certain stores and in the French markets of New Orleans all times during the winter. The snails have sealed themselves up in their shells for their winter hybernation, and are exposed for sale in baskets, as dry as beans.
Suppose they are to be cooked a la Bourgignonne, the shells are cart-fully washed and laid on one side; parsley, garlic, chives orechalotte, mushroom and butter, are then chopped together into a paste, a little of this is put into the empty shell, and the snail after being washed is restored to its dwelling, and the opening is finally filled up with paste; they are then baked in a dish of white wine for half an hour, with fire above and below them. From this description it will be rightly inferred, that to cook snails a la Bourgignonne is no simple matter.
A certain cordial made with snail-meat (strop d'escargols) is recommended by medical authorities as an alleviative of pulmonary affections; and Snail Soup (bouillon d'escargots) is a preparation which possesses very strengthening properties.
Sceptics who do not believe in the stomachic value of the snail will hear with no little disgust that they are sometimes eaten alive by persons who profess a great faith in their curative virtues. They first break the shell to extricate the inmate, which is then well washed and swallowed like an oyster. I have never tasted raw snails, and have no special desire to do so, but I have been assured by those who have had the courage to try the experiment that the gastronomic sensation is a most agreeable one.
The mode of preparing the snails for consumption is very simple, but requires a deal of care and cleanliness. The first thing to do is to scrape off the clay that covers the aperture, then the shells are placed in large vessels containing water, salted and acidulated with vinegar. The object of this is to cause the animal to throw off the slime and impurity with which it is impregnated. After half an hour's soaking the snails are washed in cold water, placed in large wicker-baskets, and plunged into immense coppers containing boiling water, where they are allowed to simmer for rive minutes. Next, with the aid of a small two-pronged fork, the snails are removed one by one from their shells, thrown into boiling water slightly salted, garnished with vegetables and allowed to cook for three-quarters of an hour. The cleaning of the empty shells is an important point. After being well scrubbed and washed, they are put to boil for two hours in plenty of water containing soda in the proportion of one ounce for every hundred shells. Finally they are washed again, drained and dried in hot closets.
The next process is the refilling of the shells.
"People who have tasted periwinkles may easily form an idea as to the nature of the contents of a snail-shell. The substance of one resembles the substance of the other, but the taste differs essentially. There is a pleasing and distinctive flavor belonging to the inmate of the tiny sea-shell, whilst the meat of the escargot is entirely tasteless, and would not be so esteemed were it not for the piquant stuffing associated with it. For my own part 1 can not avow that I am an enthusiastic admirer of escargols, however dressed and served. I certainly eat them without disgust, but also without any particular satisfaction".