This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
For to keep, putt it on the fire, lett it just boyl, scum it very clean, take it off, and keep it till the next day, then bottle it." Dr. Yeo tells that "the edible Snail has been called ' the poor man's oyster.' " It may be eaten raw, with salt, pepper, and vinegar. Spenser, in his day, suggested this.
Sweet syrups are still made from Apple Snails for colds, and sore throats, because of the emollient mucilage which they furnish with their special constituents, helicin, and limacin. Another old recipe, "excellent for one that is in a consumption," ran as follows: "Take Garden Snails, break their houses, and remove them whole; do not wash them, but put them into the strokings of milk, and set them on the fire together till they be ready to boyl, but let it not boyl; then strain it, and drink it warm, - a draught each morning, and at four o'clock in the afternoon, and at night last." Quantities of Garden Snails are packed in old cases, and sent to America as delicacies. The glass men at Newcastle have a Snail feast once a year; they collect the Snails in the fields, and hedgerows, on the Sunday before this anniversary. Again, Francatelli, an eminently sensible chef, considerate for the cottager no less than for the lavish epicure, advises thus in his Modern Cook: "Take two, or three Garden Snails; add to these the hind-quarters only of two dozen stream-frogs previously skinned; bruise them together in a mortar, after which put them into a stewpan with a couple of turnips chopped small, a little salt, a quarter of an ounce of hay saffron, and three pints of spring-water. Stir these on the fire until the broth begins to boil, then skim it well, and set it by the side of the fire to simmer for half an hour, after which it should be strained by pressure through a tammy cloth into a basin for use.
This broth, from its soothing qualities, will often successfully counteract the straining effects of a severe cough, and will alleviate more reliably than any other culinary preparation the sufferings of the consumptive." Birds'-nest Soup of the East, and Snail Soup of the West, are nearly allied to each other. The Ashantees, and other African tribes smoke Snails, and eat them as daily food all the year round. The London Gazette of March 23rd, 1739, tells that "Mrs. Joanna Stephens received from the Government of that time five thousand pounds for revealing the secret of her famous cure for stone in the bladder, and gravel. This consisted chiefly of egg-shells, and Snails, mixed with soap, honey, and herbs. It was given in decoctions, powders, and pills." Some do report that a calculus, or bladder stone, when taken out of the human body will, if wrapt in chamomile flowers, become speedily disintegrated, and will crumble away; so that for stone in the bladder, or kidneys, a strong infusion of chamomile flowers (virtually chamomile tea), if taken systematically every morning while fasting, and each night at bedtime, should be effectual to disperse it.
Pepys, in his Diary (1663), wrote: "April 1st, this being my feast in lieu of what I should have had a few days ago for my cutting for the stone, for which the Lord make me truly thankful! Very merry at, before, and after dinner; and the more for that my dinner was great, and most neatly dressed by our owne only mayde. We had a fricasee of rabbits, and chickens, a leg of mutton boyled, and three carps in a dish, a great dish of a side of lambe, a dish of roasted pigeons, a dish of four lobsters, three tarts, a lamprey pie (a most rare pie!), a dish of anchovies, good wine of several sorts, and all things mighty noble, and to my great content. Mrs. Wright, and I, and the rest of the women, with Roger Pepys".
Snail shells in powder are "lithontriptick, and good for the gravel; they cure clefts, or chops in the hands, lips, or fundament." Southey has told in The Doctor that any "chafing of the skin is instantly relieved by the slime of a Slug; put the Slug on the sore place, it heals you, and you need not hurt it; the part once slimed the Slug may be let go." The liver of Slugs yields sugar. As medicines both Snails, and Slugs are best eaten raw because of their coagulable albumin (like the white of egg) then remaining soft. Lister speaks of Snails seasoned with oil, pepper, and salt. Uric acid is produced in Slugs, and Snails, by an organ (the saccus calcareus) which is supposed to be the first vestige of a kidney; this uric acid has been turned (by Dr. Prout) into a purple colour of great beauty (murexide). Mr. Wood makes mention of a certain old dame who used to search in the hedges for Snails for converting thereby the milk she sold into cream; this she did by crushing the Snails through a piece of linen, whilst squeezing their juice into the milk.
Lady Honeywood's "Snail-water" was well known in the seventeenth century. "Take a quart of shelled Snails, wash them in salt, and water, then scalld them in boyling water; then distill them in a quart of milk upon white sugar candy, and a branch of speremint." An old nursery distich of Dame Gammer Gurton's has quaintly related how: -
Went to kill a snail, The best man among them,
Dur'st not touch its tail; She put out her horns,
Like a little dun cow, Run, tailors, run,
Or she'll kill you all now".
"Sex quater exibant sartores impete magno Viribus ut junctis limax spumosa periret. Nec fuit e numero qui auderet tangere caudam! Cornua nam extrudens soevissima sicut in agris Vacoa rubens et nigra, croci continente colore Illa suos hoates tremefecit. Abite fugaces Sartores! vos dira manent dispendia vitae, Praesentem que viris intentant omnia mortem! "
In France a rustic application to scrofulous swellings is often used with success, which consists of garden parsley, and Snails, pounded together in a mortar to the consistence of an ointment. Some of this is spread on coarse linen, and applied fresh every day freely. The curious gourmet may taste a dish of Snails any day in London at a Restaurant (Gaudin's) in Greek Street, Soho, where the front window displays a legend "Escargots a la mode de Bourgoyne," to be eaten on the premises, or "a emporter, l0d. le douzaine ": basketfuls thereof are exhibited, the open mouths of the shells being stuffed with bread, and herbs. Some big, round fellows (selected) are at four shillings the dozen; they may be taken home, and cooked according to one's own ideas, perhaps "a la mode de Shepherd's Bush".
Many quarts of cooked Snails are sold every week to the labouring classes in Bristol. Defoe, writing in 1722, detcribed a cook's shop " where you may bespeak a dinner for from four, or five shillings to a guinea a head, or what sum you will; the menu of one of these guinea dinners containing among other curious items a ' ragout of fatted Snails,' also ' chicken two hours old.' "
Erasmus, in his colloquies, refers to the slow pace at which a Snail makes progress. "I see what haste you make, you are never the forwarder; you go a Snail's gallop." The Mock Turtle said with a deep sigh to Alice (in Wonderland), "Once I was a real Turtle "; then he sang very slowly, and sadly: -
" ' Will you walk a little faster? ' said a Whiting to a Snail, ' There'a a Porpoise close behind us, and he's treading on my tail: See, how eagerly the Lobsters, and the Turtles all advance! They are waiting on the shingle - will you come and join the dance? Will you? won't you? will you? won't you? will you join the dance? Will you? won't you? will you? won't you? won't you join the dance?
"' You can really have no notion how delightful it will be When they take us up, and throw us, with the Lobsters, out to sea!' But the Snail replied, ' Too far, too far!' and gave a look askance - ' Said he thanked the Whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance: Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance; Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.' "
Colonel Newnham Davis, a true gastronome, has recently given it as his dictum, "I would not counsel anyone ever to eat a Snail." He made two attempts in the cause of gastronomy, and under the best possible conditions; "yet," he says, "they are distinctly unappetizing: their appearance is greatly against them, and they taste like gravel cooked in mock turtle soup".