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Before David Gordon's Eat-A-Bug Cookbook came out in 1998,
the naturalist asked if I'd taste test a few of his recipes.
Needless to say, it was an experience to remember!
 
Eat-A-Bug Cookbook  
Cookbook features bug cuisine, but you have to catch ‘em first


By Sandy Hershelman

 

"I'll let my first experience eating bugs be when I'm out in the wilderness starving," my friend declared.
Well, that may be okay for her, but, for me, it was a lot more fun to take my first nibble of cricket in the company of an interesting man, at a comfy table, drinking wine and laughing. So who's crazy here? Me probably.
I had fair warning that dinner at David Gordon's was going to be an adventure in dining. When the author of The Compleat Cockroach and The Field Guide to the Slug told me he was working on a cookbook, the Best Recipes from the Eat-a-Bug Cafe, I had no doubt some creepy crawly critters were going to be on the menu.
The evening's main course was to be orzo and othoptera. That's pasta with crickets, if you must know, and David crowned me his assistant chef.
As I washed my hands, a childhood memory flashed: "Wash your hands before dinner," my mother warned. "Who knows what bugs you may have touched." How ironic. Years later, here I was washing my hands before eating a dinner of these same vermin my mom cursed.
Hands clean, I scanned the recipe. It started out sounding yummy: Vegetable broth, orzo, garlic, onion, carrots, pepper — and 20 freshly killed cricket nymphs. So how long do you cook a cricket? "Oh, maybe 30 seconds," my host replied. "And yes, you can overcook a cricket. They'll burst if you get them too hot." Eeww, cricket guts on the glasses. Not a pretty picture.
"There's a good reason you cook anything — insects, too," David added. They have parasites. Whether they're fresh or frozen doesn't seem to matter for most recipes.
"For me the trick is obtaining these guys," David said. He had 500 crickets on order. The crickets popping in the wok were purchased locally — from the same place I bought them for my son's lizard.
So, do you drink white or red wine with lizard food? The Wine Seller's Joe Euro recommended a white Oregon Pinot Gris or a red Shiraz.
"The preparation of the bug, versus the actual bug itself, will actually dictate what type of wine you'd want," Joe said."Marinara would probably indicate a nice chianti, whereas a Thai peanut sauce would probably warrant a sauvignon/fumé blanc. The Frog's Leap brand might be appropriate since frogs eat bugs, too." Good ol' Joe, what a trooper!
Early in the game, I really didn't care what the wine was — just give me some! My courage was waning. Folks back in Louisiana had hand-collected the big apple green katydids for the evening's cream of katydid soup. David had already removed the legs and wings before he blenderized the noisy bugs. My gracious host didn't want me picking bug parts out of my teeth.


"We have no problem eating the marine equivalent of insects," David said, as we sat down to dinner. "Lobsters live in a hole on the bottom of the ocean and eat dead creatures. Think about how disgusting oysters are — and you're eating their guts. It must have been a real adventure for the first guy to ever crack open an oyster shell and eat an oyster."
Crayfish, oysters and soft-shelled crabs are readily accepted here in the United States. Entomophagy — that's bug eating — is a different matter.
"It's a totally cultural thing. We're raised to think some things are acceptable and some things aren't," David said. "Insect lovers refer to honey as bee barf. Or, if you go to the health food store and buy bee pollen, that's just pollen mixed with bee spit." Perfect dinner time conversation.
Two glasses of wine later, my courage had returned, and I was actually enjoying the creamy soup — even if the garnish was a big green katydid doing the backstroke through the murky green remains of its relatives.
"Okay, I'm feeling brave. I'm ready to try the crickets," I told my host.
"I think you're being more adventurous eating the soup. There's a lot more bug in the soup than in the orzo. It's just not so obvious," David said.
My stomach turned. Boy, was I tempted to scoop a forkful of the pasta without a cricket. David would never know. His dog wouldn't care. No, that wouldn't be fair. So, making sure I did indeed get a cricket on the fork, I shut my eyes and put in in my mouth. Chewing, chewing — waiting for cricket recognition — and the urge to throw up. But neither came. My tongue didn't even discern the cricket from the veggies and pasta.


"The crickets I've just fried tasted subtly of shrimp," David offered, pouring more wine. As we talked, I noticed I was chewing on the soup. I didn't want to concentrate too long on what it was. Finally, I had to see. It was green and small. A bug part, no doubt.
"Oh yeah, it's a katydid thigh," David enlightened. The vegetarian has gotten some flack on his bug eating efforts. "Is it a cop out for a vegetarian to eat bugs? The reason I became a vegetarian was to eat lower on the food chain."
In other parts of the world, vegetarians may eat small animals and fish, so who knows what's proper? Besides, this isn't really a change in his lifestyle. He's just writing a book.


"Gross ‘em out David" started his college career pursuing a degree in journalism, and ended with a degree in aquatic biology.
"Now I'm a science writer. I like to reach people by writing humorously and by hitting them from different angles than they expect," David said. His cookbook is a perfect example. He knows it's going to be a joke present for everybody's favorite uncle. "But, I hope that when they get this for Uncle Harry, he may actually open it and try a recipe," he added.
David's The Field Guide to the . . . book series proved to be a marketing lesson for him. People loved eagles and the field guide was informative. The Free Willy Foundation bought 75,000 copies of The Field Guide to the Orcas. Even better. "But The Field Guide to the Sasquatch was when I first realized you could get a little weird," David admitted. And he did. Just ask his daughter Julia.
"I'm not getting much family support on this cookbook. Actually, my daughter thinks I've gone off the deep end," he said.
David's field guides to the slug and geoduck were regional hits, but it's been The Compleat Cockroach that's attracted the press.
"When I was working on the cockroach book, I just started delving into the world of insects," David explained. People have been writing eloquently about bugs since 1580.
While working on the ‘roach book, David whipped off a paragraph to his editor saying he wanted to do a bug cookbook of nouvelle cuisine recipes for this age-old cuisine. Normally publishers want to see a detailed query and sample chapters, and David's as amazed as others that his Best Recipes from the Eat-a-Bug Cafe idea was snatched up by Ten Speed Press, in Berkeley, Calif.


"The basic premise is every culture except European cultures eat insects," David explained. "We're the oddballs. We go, ‘Oh, gross!'"
Did you realize 95 percent of the life on our planet is invertebrate? All around the world people eat bugs. There are dried caterpillars from Africa. Or how about giant water beetles from Thailand, ground and added to a chili paste or steamed for a snack. Hungry yet?
In Japan, you can buy cans of bee larva. Then there're always pan-fried scorpions, which had even less appeal to me after watching a live hairy Sonorian Desert scorpion dance around as a centerpiece for my evening's meal.
One does have to be careful where bugs are collected. The problem with collecting bugs in the field is you need to know where they've been and what pesticides your neighbors have been using.
Insects have a high protein content. A small grasshopper or giant water beetle has nearly as much protein per gram as lean ground beef. Many bugs have a lot more iron than beef; and they're loaded with calcium. But do avoid caterpillars and grubs if you're watching your diet — they're high in fat. Large grasshoppers, June beetles and ants are all low fat.
"Protein is hard to come by in a lot of places," David said, especially where there're large populations and not much land or water.
"That's because those people are starving. They have nothing to eat," declared my non-bug consuming friend. "We have Safeway."
Ah yes, indeed. But does the chocoholic realize the Food and Drug Administration actually acknowledges the parts-per-gram of bug parts allowable in food products?
"Most anything that's a bean or a pod almost always has insects in them," David said. That includes chocolate, my friends.
Actually, my only regret from my dinner with David was that he hasn't gotten to the dessert section of his book yet. Heck, anything smothered in chocolate's bound to taste great.
Another tidbit of trivia from deep in the Gordon memory banks: the paper band around the top of the catsup bottles was originally put there so people wouldn't be able to see the bugs which'd end up floating to the top of the catsup. Catsup, anyone?
"People have probably eaten a lot of insects and not even known it," David said.

Growing up as a kid in Pennsylvania, my mother's tomato patch would flourish. I hated to have to pick tomatoes, though, because I knew THEY would be there. Hidden beneath the tomato plant's leaves would be these horrible two-foot-long, and as thick as my arm, green worms with a big red ball-topped horn.
Well, so okay, maybe they were three inches long and as thick as my mom's finger, but they gave me nightmares.
Fortunately, after hearing that tale, David took the hint and didn't serve the disgusting creatures he had safely frozen in his freezer.
"Think about it, though. What do they eat? They're kind of odious to look at, but they taste like green tomatoes," David said.
Sorry, I still wasn't convinced enough to taste test his Fried Green Tomato Hornworms. Nestled in the freezer beside the hornworms were some three-inch lubber grasshoppers.
"As a kid, I ate those chocolate covered grasshoppers. They were just kinda crunchy," David recalled. "More recently, I went to an insect fair and there was a woman serving Chexs party mix with crickets."
Garlic was the dominating flavor of the "Chirpy Chexs Party Mix". While that not be as appealing to some as, say, Cajun-flavored meal worm snacks, both prove a lot of spices, or chocolate, can fix anything.
"At first I was pleasantly surprised the bugs tasted good," David admitted. "I was advised by someone to stick to green and brown insects."
Remember science class? If it's red, it's saying, "Don't eat me. I taste bad." That means there'll be no recipe for ladybugs and lima beans in David's book. Ah but, there's Cockroach Consommé and Gregor Samsa's Samosas. And Alpha-Bait Soup's snipped-up worms oughta be a hit, too.
"A lot of these recipes start out as bad puns and work their way up to recipes," David admitted. How about Three Bee Salad, in which two of the three bees are larval bees, before they get their stingers. Wait a minute, they're like. . .maggots? "Yeah, they kinda are, but don't tell anyone," David asked. Of course not. Who would I tell?
"The most nutritious ones are the baby insects, the ones who are going to be something when they grow up," David explained. That's grubs, maggots, meal worms, and others in their larval stage.
"The problems with tarantulas is they have these hairs on their bodies that you have to remove," David said, while we examined his daughter's pet's body.
While "Doris" sort of agreed to be a prop for a photo, we made sure we didn't let on that David had a couple of her relatives in the freezer. Doris may be loved, but those other giant tarantulas are destined to be steamed like crabs.
"The take on my cookbook is that it's different and fun. Besides, it's fun grossing people out," David admitted.
Oh yes, indeedy. I'll ditto that. I have to say, the leftovers were the best part of the meal. Safely tucked away in a plastic container, they spent the next day with me. Talk about reactions!
"I hope you didn't get that in my place," a local restaurant owner said, when he spotted the crickets and katydid in the pasta.
"Yuck! I'm not going to kiss you for a week!" yelled Heidi, my 11-year-old, loud enough, I might add, to be heard all the way down the block.
"Get that off of my desk!," a mortified Leader reporter said, when I casually slipped the open container onto her desk.
"I'm glad I wasn't here to see them," an escargot-loving pal later said.
"But wait a minute," I countered. "You love escargot. You're eating a slug's cousin."
"That's different. They're raised to be eaten. And in garlic and butter they're just wonderful," she defended.
What party poopers! But, what fun! After years of having preteen boys trying to gross me out, it was my turn — and I had a great time.

 

For more info on David, check out his Web site.


hershelman@olympus.net
Date Last Modified:9/23/03
Copyright © 2001-2003 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.