Biting back against the wasp
PUBLISHED: 13:15 01 October 2013 | UPDATED: 13:15 01 October 2013
Cockroach pasta, salt and vinegar crickets or barbecued dragonfly, anyone? Eating insects is not as daft, nor as uncommon as you might think
August is a thin month for national celebrations, which is why, I suppose, every media outlet makes a fuss about The Glorious Twelfth. The Twelfth, as it is known, is the start of the grouse shooting season which is, to bastardise the oft-quoted saw about cocaine, ‘God’s way of saying you are making too much money’. (It costs several thousand pounds a day to shoot the game bird). After a day of literally blowing money you receive a brace of scraggy fowl, which, dead, are worth a few quid and are inedible to most.
A better and cheaper August observance would be to celebrate chasing the wasp. August is the month when, in the Cotswolds at least, the stinging beast flourishes and turns the most doughty of us into drips. It is as much a symbol of a lazy summer in these hills as the burnt Gloucester Old Spot sausage and a warm shandy. So why not hunt wasps and eat them? The August season, for example, could start on Warning Day (named after the yellow and black street warning lights) and end on October 1st.
Last year, at the Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards, our esteemed editor Mike Lowe suggested that we would all be eating insects soon. It was the logical conclusion to research by scientists in Mexico who had reported that the human consumption of bugs would be a good thing because cultivating the small invertebrate would require forests to be preserved rather than felled and furthermore it would reduce the world consumption of meat.
These singular findings by the researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which also unearthed the fact that 1,700 species of bug are eaten in at least 113 countries across the globe, are not original. It should be noted that a chap from the Cotswolds came to a remarkably similar conclusion over a century ago.
In 1885, the entomologist Vincent M Holt published his only known work to date titled Why Not Eat Insects?. His skinny book, that included a comprehensive history of those that had feasted on the winged and multi-legged buggers, proposed that insects should supplement the diet of the English peasant.
“How can the farmer most successfully battle with the insect devourers of his crops?” wrote Holt. “I suggest they be collected by the poor as food thus pleasantly and wholesomely varying their present diet while, at the same time, conferring a great benefit on the agricultural world.”
According to Holt, the Victorian yokel was already using woodlice pills, snails and slugs as a cure for various ills and he adds “I myself knew a labourer in the West of England who was in the habit of picking up and eating small white slugs as titbits, just as he would have picked wild strawberries.”
The book went on to claim that Moses encouraged the people of Israel to eat locusts, beetles and grasshoppers (Leviticus, Chapter X1, Verse 22), the Romans fattened the larvae of the Stag Beetle for the table, the French astronomer Jerome Lalande spread spiders on bread while the author of The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin ate the larvae of the Sphinx Moth that he proclaimed to be “delicious”.
Today the Australian Aborigines still feast on Bogong moths, Witchetty grubs and the ‘Honeybag’ bee; Japanese restaurants serve boiled wasp larvae; Nigerians eat roast termites (and even have termite stock cubes); and dragonflies are chucked on the barbie in Bali.
Closer to home, chef Lars Schebuble at the Soda restaurant in Berlin offers his customers cockroach pasta and sautéed maggots with green leaves. Our own celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal made his name with snail porridge while in Bristol the exotic food supplier Osgrow sells crickets (Salt & Vinegar and Sour Cream and Onion flavour), locust (in packs of ten), chocolate ants and Tequila-flavoured worm lollies.
Which brings me back to Cotswold Warning Day. I’m not sure of the technicalities needed to catch wasps in numbers, or the kit needed to go hunting the critters or even how to cook them (is its sting neutralised by boiling?). All of the aforementioned, however, is a technicality.
What is important would be celebrating the day as we do the Grand National the Boat Race and the Glorious Tweflth – in other words by drinking and dining. All British sport is bound up with booze and Warning Day would be no different. It would be traditional to drink Stingers (brandy and crème de menthe, shaken and served in a cocktail glass) and lunch on scrambled eggs topped with black truffle. Of course one can take this idea too far although, let’s face it, it is not quite as ridiculous as celebrating paying the price of a new Skoda to be bitten by midges while standing in a boggy moor trying to down a bit of flying scrag-end.
Adam Edwards is a regularly contributor to Cotswold Life.
Follow him on twitter: @cotswoldhack