As a child during the Great Depression, I learned to eat everything — or at least taste it and keep it down. If my siblings or I couldn’t like it, we were allowed to fix a peanut butter sandwich. Those early rules served me well. Skipping the peanut butter rule, I continue to sample new foods and enjoy the taste adventure.
As an adult, a glass of champagne encouraged me to consider tasting a snail; a second glass filled me with enough courage to actually chew the snail I’d put into my mouth. Calling it by its French name, escargot, helped a little. Years later, in New Orleans’ French Quarter for dinner at Antoine’s, I ordered escargot, an impressive presentation with little clamps to hold the shells and tiny forks to spear the snail. It took only one glass of wine to show off and eat it in front of my stunned companions. I knew the snails were washed, cooked and seasoned before stuffing them into clean shells. The texture is similar to shrimp, firm (as opposed to slimy) and the flavor is enhanced by the heavy addition of garlic. When I can afford it, I’ll show off and eat it again.
Many columns ago, I wrote about eating a raw oyster at a party. Showing off, I pushed my luck and tried a second one. I’ll never, ever, do that again. Cooked, they’re great. Raw, they’re not. (Ugh, shiver, shiver!)
Frog legs are a good start for the beginner gourmet. They have a slight taste of chicken, but an even more delicious and mysterious flavor. I enjoy them only if I don’t have to prepare them. Dead as they are, their muscles do react. I won’t eat anything that tries to get out of the skillet while being fried, lid or not.
Called crawfish or crawdads, we used them for fishing bait. When they’re cooked, our Southern nephew says they’re called “mud bugs.” I’ll eat about anything if it’s rolled in flour and fried. But to eat a mud bug, you first bite off the head, then suck out the rest. I won’t eat anything that requires me to bite off the head. (They’re available February to May, from a New Orleans fishing fleet.)
Caviar alone isn’t attractive, but I drain the liquid from black caviar and put a dab in the center of a deviled egg, which relieves the saltiness. It makes a pretty addition to a plate of hors d’oeuvres.
When I toured the U.K., I intended to try steak and kidney pie but couldn’t find a restaurant that offered it! Can you believe that? A waitress told me it tasted “nasty” anyway. In Italy, I sampled tripe, prepared with pasta and served as a side dish. Although it tasted fine, it was rubbery. In Scotland, I enjoyed haggis, which is traditionally accompanied by a shot of Scotch whiskey. I enjoyed that, too. A friend traveling in the Orient was served what looked like a dish of rice, but one end of each tube-shaped grain of “rice” was black. Maggots — dead of course, not wiggling. She couldn’t eat them; I couldn’t even have stayed at the table.
Most people have tasted lobster in some form, but when ordering the entire lobster, it might be a surprise to see a green substance, the consistency of baby food, located in the upper part of the body. I was told it’s called tamale and is part of the lobster’s digestive system — possibly the pancreas or liver — and considered by some as a delicacy. Did I taste it? Absolutely. Did RB? Absolutely not! He refused to try it if I couldn’t tell him where it came from, i.e., exactly which end of the digestive system had generated the green stuff. At that time we had a beagle dog, Chance, with a discriminating taste. The more rotten whatever he dug up from the yard, the better he liked it. RB, to prove his point, put some of the “green stuff” on a plate for Chance, who sniffed it briefly before rolling in it. And RB asked, “Does that tell you what it is?”
Carolyn Stevens may be contacted via mail at 719 Park Ave., Piqua, or by email at [email protected]