Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What's the Use?



God’s given us some pretty strange stuff.  He gave us poison ivy, chiggers, mosquitoes, poison and water hemlock and ticks to name just a few.  I’d like to address a couple of those gifts: common ragweed and giant ragweed.  When I say common and giant ragweed, I don’t mean goldenrod or thistles or curly dock or nettles or…  Scientific names are quite important for proper identification of plants and animals.  Those’ll come in a little bit.

My first discovered use for ragweed, though I had no clue what the plant was, happened back in what is historically known as “The Good Old Days” or the late ‘60s or early ‘70s.  My friends and I wandered/explored/deliberately sought, any undeveloped territories in our suburban Minneapolis wilderness.  We were predators.

My friends and I hunted and fished for a living (play is a kid’s living).  Other kids claimed their work was to move round things from point A to point B or to hit them with sticks.  We used sticks and round or nearly round things in our job, but in different ways.  We used sticks with which to make slingshots, our suburban predator weapon of choice.  It’d sure be easy to go off on the suburban predator tangent, but, not here.  Some conditions forced our prey into shelter.  We weren’t so bright and stayed out, getting all hot and sweaty and ultimately bored.  We didn’t stay bored long, as we soon became prey to one another.

When we hunted each other, we didn’t use slingshots because we were very safety conscious.  We used spears.  While out hunting one day, we happened upon a massive forest of long, straight, stiff dead weeds.  It didn’t take us long to find out they were beautifully built for throwing, once the side branches were stripped.  The forest became known as “The Spear Place”.  We were very creative with our names.

That ragweed patch taught us basic missile physics.  We learned about trajectories, MIRVs and more.   For the longest time, I thought the only purposes for ragweed were for spears, for muttering at for growing in gardens and for aggravating allergies in allergy sufferers.  Not long ago, I finally decided to figure out what “that” weed was that smelled so good when I mowed through it.  I asked Dr. Google about it and I learned what I thought was ragweed was only one of many members of the ragweed or Ambrosia family.  My spicy-green smelling ragweed turned out to be common ragweed or Ambrosia artemisiifolia and my spear ragweed is giant ragweed or Ambrosia trifida.  As plentiful as ragweed is, I figured there had to be some sort of use for it other than the not-really-practical ones I knew of.

Books!  I’ve always been a book person –even work at a library now.  I learned, way back when I was a little guy, that books were packed with all kinds of neat information about my world outdoors.  Francois Couplan, in his Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America, says ragweed has a semi-drying oil (astringent?) and has had edibility suggested.  Some species are used as flavorings, but ragweed’s best-known use is as a hay fever instigator.  Couplan also lists A. psilostachya as a third hay fever culprit in North America.  Kelly Kindscher lists edible and medicinal uses for ragweed in her Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie.  Seeds were found stockpiled along with other well-known cultivars, which implied it, too, was cultivated.  The seeds are edible, and an Indian name even alludes to the loud sound that’s made when chewing.  Tea made from the plant is used as a wound/bite/dressing.

I tried some bruised giant ragweed leaves on a chigger bite.  It did provide some relief, if nothing else, the abrasiveness of the leaf scratched that itch quite nicely.

I browsed my other wild edibles books, anthropologically-related plant books and survival stuff and found no other references to the Ambrosia family, other than in Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants.  She lists ragweed as only a pollen/allergy source.  Allergies help keep people in work.  Yeah, I’m reaching for something positive to say about ragweed.  Pharmaceutical companies have a great use for ragweed.  They can make and sell medications in an attempt to relieve some of the symptoms of that hay fever allergy.  One of the librarians in the library system for which I work says one of her neighbors cultivates ragweed for such a drug company.

I plan to explore the astringent possibility and maybe try some tea –since A. artemisiifolia smells so good.  But I uncovered another use for ragweed.  I mentioned this article at my Facebook group, “Wild Edibles of Missouri”.  I got usual responses –that I’d already read about, but one lady mentioned as kids, they used to split the stems to extract worms for fishing.  I looked up ragweed stem worms.

I was quite pleased when I discovered a dull gray longhorn beetle likes to live its childhood in ragweed stems.  I know longhorn beetle grubs to be quite nicely edible.  So I cut open several stalks.  I didn’t find any decent size worms, but found a different kind that turned out to be a lesser or common stalk borer grub (Papaipema nebris).  It’s the larva of a LBM (little brown moth) so common in lawns and all over the place.  They also like to parasitize corn stalks, lamb’s quarter, and other highly-edible ‘weeds’,    I also know LBB (birds) like to eat LBMs, which could imply their edibility. 

I applied some of my informal edibility checks.  The caterpillars live their lives under cover, or under protection.  That’s an indication they might be good to eat.  Corn earworms are highly edible, so why not stalk worms?  The adult moths are brown and like to hide.  Drab and reclusive are also hints of edibility.  They’re not guarantees, but it’s evidence of edibility.  For everything we believe, we either accept or reject evidence and draw conclusions.  I concluded the stalk borers are edible.  After rinsing, I boiled the worms for a bit over 10 minutes.  I then dehydrated them. 

They’re ready for an insect program I’m giving in a couple days.  I tried some before deciding to serve them.  Crispy and slightly sweet describes their flavor and texture. 

I’ve got a new use for ragweed.  My father-in-law will benefit in my pulling ragweed, as he’s one of the allergic ones.  My wife will be happy because I’m pulling weeds.  I’ll be happy being able to add new critters to my wild edibles programs. So, what’s the use?  I think ragweed’s potential is highly unrecognized, but I’ll exploit it in my way.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bug-Collecting


Frustration and mild nervousness plague me.  It’s chilly and rainy.  Most of the Spring has been cooler than usual.  I’ve hardly mowed and April nears its end while I usually start mowing in March.  Beginning on the 10th with three more in May, I’ve got several programs scheduled, and I had some late off-season programs last year and already two early-season events this Spring.  I’m very low on bugs to share, and they’ve not yet emerged in collectible quantities!  I’m frustrated and a bit nervous about having enough to support the programs.  I figured while I ponder catching bugs, I might as well write about it, too.

If the rain lets up tomorrow, I think I’ll head to the woods and try to get some stinkbugs, crane fly larvae, earthworms and other worms that hide under the leaves.  It’s a good method of collection before the bugs really come out for the season.  A rake, collection bottle and a big cold drink are all that’s needed for a peaceful, but potentially strenuous, afternoon of collecting. 

It doesn’t take long to learn to spot little edible invertebrates.  It’s almost like mushroom hunting where you look and look and finally spot one and everything slips into focus and they’re suddenly everywhere.  Gently rake a long stroke, down to dirt.  Don’t rake too hard, or you’ll pile up the bugs behind you in the leaves.  Scan the ground.  I’ve got photos of an earlier raking session posted at the Facebook group, “Missouri Entomophagy”.  Soon you’ll be finding lots of bugs which were taking shelter under those leaves.  Pick them up and put them in your collection jar.  I usually use a coffee creamer bottle for a collection jar, as it has a convenient little flip top to open, allowing minimal escape opportunity for prisoners.  This assumes you know what kinds you’re looking for, and have an idea what other kinds are edible and inedible. 

Before your in-depth Spring cleaning, dig under those little patches of leaves that collect around stuff on porches, garage doors and along fences.  They quite often harbor edible critters.  A little patch about the area of a dinner plate can harbor way more than a little handful of earthworms, crane fly larvae, cutworms, wood lice, roaches, click beetle larvae and more.  If you’re not sure about something’s edibility, collect it anyway and look it up.  You can always drop by a website like Missouri Entomophagy on Facebook, and ask.  But always make sure it’s edible before you cook them with other edibles.

This time of year, on warm building sides, bugs sometimes gather.  Box elder bugs, shield bugs and others are easy to collect with a funnel-trap bottle made from a plastic soda bottle.  Cut off the top, where it widens out to bottle-size and invert it into the bottle.  I like to put a couple pieces of tape on the edges so the top doesn’t slip inside and release all my captives while I’m in mid-hunt.  Funnel trap variations are fun to use.  I built a trap using a battery-powered trouble-light to draw the insects to drop into a funnel around two feet in diameter.  At the bottom of that funnel, I’ve got a funnel-trap made from a 2-liter soda bottle.  This one’s pictured at Missouri Entomophagy, too.

I built traps for Japanese beetles.  They’re still unused.  They’re based on commercial traps.  They have yellow plastic vanes on top to steer the beetles into funnel traps below.  I’m hesitant to try them because they can bring Japanese beetles into an area that didn’t originally have trouble.  I also have all the parts I need to build a vacuum trap.  I’ve got a Craftsman C3 battery-powered vacuum (about dust-buster-size), and the hoses, etc.  I plan to use that on woodlice and other critters that like to hide in loose ground litter and under logs and rocks and such.

One collection method I plan to try as soon as I find a big ant mound is the folded tarp.  Lay a small tarp near an ant mound, and create a fold in the edge of it.  Shovel parts of the mound onto the tarp near the fold.  The ants will scurry to hide their pupae/eggs under the nearest cover –conveniently, the fold in the tarp.  They’ll collect and almost completely clean your prey for you.  I think the hardest part will be to pick the tarp up to pour it into your funnel trap.  I hope this works.  It makes sense.

Another tool is the ever-popular net.  Nets from science supply stores are pretty durable, but they’re also pricy.  Most easily-found nets are butterfly nets in department store toy sections.  I much prefer to make my own nets over the store-bought ones for price, design and durability reasons.  No, I guess it’s not really a preference.  I won’t use one of those department store nets.  Two swipes and they’ve got a tear in them.  Nets are fairly easy to make.  Obtain a stout handle, then stiff, yet flexible material for the hoop.  To attach the hoop to the handle, look at some commercial nets for ideas and go from there.  Since the net is for function and not beauty contests (at least mine aren’t), don’t even be afraid to try stuff like hose clamps and duct tape.  Have fun with it.  For the netting material, avoid the sewing department.  Go right to curtains and get some sheers.  That material is a whole lot tougher than the stuff often sold as insect netting and it’s lightweight enough that it won’t damage your bugs if you’re after them for display purposes.  Although it makes for a small net, an old metal badminton or tennis racket can form the frame for a tough net that’ll handle lots of brush-whacking. 

Another good thing about making a net from curtain material rather than toy-quality insect netting is you can use it in water, too.  If your net is strong enough, or if you make a net or two specifically designed for water-use, you can easily collect fairly large quantities of edible aquatic bugs.  As a kid, I used to make double-handled scoops with a wood frame and metal screen for catching weed and mud-born water-critters.  As with any collecting, be respectful of the ecosystems.  Don’t wipe out your population of dragonflies or damselflies, then fuss later about the mosquito problem. 

Night is an excellent time to gather bugs.  As mentioned above, a light-baited funnel trap is easy, but collecting off window screen and foliage is very effective as well.  Cicadas climb up trees, bushes, toys, buildings, fences and weeds to emerge from their nymph stage.  If your timing’s right, you can get lots of them.  June beetles like to eat young foliage at night, too.  I surprised myself at how many I could catch that weren't on the window screens.  On cooler or damp drizzly nights or later in Summer and into the Fall, when the nights start getting consistently cooler, grasshoppers pick almost like berries.  I like a tiny LED flashlight.  They’re bright, and you can hold them in your mouth or mount them on a hat, leafing your hands free for collection.

While looking at Google images of bugs the other day, I spotted another method for collection I’d not yet tried.  There was a neat picture of a bunch of green June beetles (fairly large, and great for sharing!) munching on a thin slice of watermelon.  I’ve never been all that excited about watermelon, but my wife and her parents love it (the in-laws live next door).  I’ll take a couple thin slices for bait and give them the rest.  The rinds should work, too.  I think I’m going to try that when it warms up some.

Well, I started this article yesterday, and it’s still cool and drizzly today.  My frustration is still here, but I guess I oughtta get to some honey-do items instead of pouting that I can’t get bugs today.  So when the time is right, enjoy your bug-catching!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bible on Eating and Entomophagy


My commentary or "Gettin' Biblical on Entomophagy":

Why can I eat pork and bugs and shellfish, among other things?  Some Christian sects believe God has ordered us to abstain from some meats, such as pork, crab, lobster, and more.   I’m a Christian and eat all that stuff with a clear conscience, and here’s why.

The whole Old Testament is a collection of documents which point to the necessity and the coming of Jesus.  It is a list of laws and rules that no person is capable of following without error (not my ‘excuse’ –keep with me).  With the New Testament came Jesus who fulfilled that law.  Mankind is not worthy of being in God’s presence without Jesus covering for us.  The New Testament is sprinkled profusely with references to that fact and that we are no longer bound by Old Testament ceremonial laws.

Very early (Gen 9:3), God said all animals and herbs were for us to eat.  Then again in the NT (Rom 14:14) He says it again.  In the meantime God gave the Jews some special eating rules.  He said, “No” about swine in Lev 11:7 and Deut 14:8.  He didn’t say why, except that they were cloven hoofed and they didn’t chew their cud.  He says swine “are unclean for you.”  Deut 14:19-21 might warn that a carcass is unclean, BUT verse 21 goes on to say unclean doesn't necessarily mean dangerous, since some unclean is just fine for non-Jewish visitors/strangers.  The Jews couldn’t eat a carcass, but they could give it or even sell it to strangers.  What’s law to the Jew is clearly not binding on non-Jews in some cases.  The Jews were also told rabbit, or any sea creature without fins and scales are unclean “to you”.  These orders were given to the Jews.  I am a Gentile.  With a clear conscience, I eat rabbit, pork, catfish, lobster, bullhead, crab, clam, and even some winged and swarming insects.

I eat insects.  I eat lots of different kinds of insects.  The Bible mentions edible insects, too.  It tells of ones that are unclean, and ones that are OK.   Lev 11:23 says winged and swarming insects are unclean, BUT, Lev 11:22 just said jumping insects are just fine.  Locusts are jumping insects, and they swarm, and they fly on wings.  Mark 1:6 tells of John the Baptist, the most contemporary prophet to Jesus, and his diet of locusts and honey.  The Bible is not a science book.  It mentions winged insects that go on all fours and winged insects that have four feet as unclean.  Insects I know go on all sixes.  Lev 11: 42-43 goes on to say whatever (not “whatever insect”) goes on all fours or swarms is unclean.  Cattle, sheep and goats “go on all fours”, so according to verses 42 and 43, they’re unclean, too.  According to Lev 11: 42 and 43, almost nothing is clean.

I won’t argue that vegetarianism isn’t good for you.  Daniel 1:5-16 is pretty clear on that.  Even though Daniel said he would defile himself with the king’s rich food, we don’t know what that food was, other than it was rich.  It doesn’t say the rich foods were an abomination to God.  It only says Daniel felt the food would defile himself.  The passage does not say other diets are an abomination.  Romans 14:14 tells about differences in diet and how they shouldn’t be an issue. 

Genesis 9:3 and Romans says it doesn’t matter what you eat in God’s eyes, (Rom 14: 2, 3, 14).  The passage says religion or legalism is not what God wants, but rather that you eat or abstain with a clear conscience.  If you’re good with it (foodwise), go for it.

Acts 10:9-16 tells of a vision of Peter’s where while hungry, he went into a trance and God showed him “all kinds of animals, and reptiles and birds of the air.”  God told Peter, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  Peter said he couldn’t because the stuff God was showing him was unclean.  But God gave him that vision three times.  It reads to me, that God was stressing that any food could be clean and also that vegetarianism isn’t necessarily what God wants, as some sects claim.  Of course the context is God’s pointing out to Peter that all people are acceptable to Him, but the food reference is undeniable.

Romans 14:14,15 say there is no clean and unclean before God except what is in one’s conscience.  But, one is not to flaunt one’s food in front of one who says they can’t eat it.  In other words, if I have a Jewish friend over for dinner, I won’t serve him BBQ pork.  But still, there is Old Testament law which states some things are not to be eaten.  Those were ceremonial laws given to the Israelites, and are not binding on Gentiles.

Acts 15:7-21 tells of a meeting of believers where it was determined the Gentiles were not to be saddled with Jewish law.  Don’t take verse 9 out of context.   Verses 10, 19 and 20 back up my claim.  1 Corinthians 6:12,13 and Galatians 3:23-25 also say we’re no longer bound by Old Testament ceremonial laws.

 Acts 15:7-21 shows that ceremonial law was not mandated on Gentiles. The dietary laws were ceremonial and not moral laws.

Many places in the New Testament say Christians, particularly Gentile Christians, are not bound by Jewish ceremonial law, however, moral laws are still something we need to follow.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eww!


Introduction


A basic how-to needed to be written on backyard wild edibles, --insects and other oft’ overlooked critters, in particular.  Too many books calling themselves books on “wild edibles” sadly neglect those little edible invertebrates.  I wondered, “Why don’t I write something?”  Ideas bombarded me from every direction and the starting point wasn’t making itself known.  I wondered, “If someone is interested in eating wild stuff, where would they start?”


First is curiosity, which leads to deciding whether or not to actually eat wild weeds and bugs on purpose.  If so, the would-be locavore (cool term for eating locally, but I didn’t make it up) acquires the wild stuff, prepares it, eats it and ultimately should want to share their findings.  With that order in mind, this writing is built.


You’re actually looking at this, so you’ve got some curiosity.  You know it’s about eating bugs and other wild stuff and haven’t thrown it down.  You got past the title.  That “eww-factor” is probably the most difficult hurdle in wild edibles.  Some of you might, however, be reading this because you’re being forced, maybe to write a report or something, so I’ll give a little background on why we shouldn’t be afraid of eating some of the stuff others might call “weird.”  It’s been done for centuries and by many cultures.  It’s nutritionally sound.  Some say it’ll even help save the planet.


To eat wild stuff, you first need to actually get hold of some, and finding it isn’t always easy until you know what you’re doing.  Not all wild stuff is safe to eat.  Usually, it takes some effort to eat your first wild stuff, although the occasional bug may fly right into your mouth.  Safety includes knowing what to eat and how to prepare it.


After you’ve fixed wild edibles a few times, you’re bound to stumble across some you actually like.  What fun is enjoying something without sharing it?  That’s a big part of this text, so you’ll also find some ways to share your new culinary knowledge.

 

Getting Started


Some folks ask, “How did you ever get started eating that stuff in the first place?”  The scene goes all wavy as we slip back to the mid 1960s in suburban Minneapolis.  Grandma told me, as she pointed out some prostrate knotweed (Polygonum aviculare, I think), “Butterflies eat that.”  I figured since butterflies fly, and that’s what they eat, I might as well give it a try.  I ate a fair amount of the stuff, and found that my leaps from the top of my slide were getting farther and farther.  I must have been learning to fly.  Something came up and I seemed to have forgotten about my aeronautical pursuits. 

Later, and still in my single-digit years, I thought I’d try something else.  I made sure nobody was watching.  With a magnifying glass, I heated the worm to a crisp.  Still, no witnesses.  The earthworm turned black, so I guessed it was cooked through.  I glanced around again and popped it in my mouth and quickly started chewing.  I hadn’t yet heard about purging worms a few days to rid their systems of dirt.  It was gritty as I chewed, but I must admit, it didn’t taste good either.  I didn’t go for seconds, and earthworm is still not a main item on my menu.


Several years later, in my early teens, I discovered chocolate covered bugs at my local grocery store.  They never became more than a novelty, probably because of the expense.  The flavors weren’t distinct enough and I could get pretty much the same texture from a Nestle’s Crunch or Hershey’s Crackle.  Besides, anything can taste good if it’s smothered in chocolate.  


I’d also read about eating dandelion greens, wild fruits and nuts, and that there’s lots more stuff out there we can eat, and people actually do eat.  I started looking at quite a few books on wild edible plants and even tried a few, other than that early knotweed.  Every now and then, I’d stumble across a reference to someone eating bugs, but, my interest in eating them took a break for over thirty years.  Then Sonja came into my life.

First Experiences With Entomophagy


Several years back, Sonja came into our library with some questions. Her quiet school-teacher manner seemed in stark contrast to her request for information on fried grasshoppers and sources of supply.  As I considered  her request, I remembered buying chocolate-covered ants, bees, grasshoppers and caterpillars back in the early '70s when our Golden Valley, MN, Byerly's carried them.  Byerly's doesn't carry them anymore. I checked a while back on a visit to my parents. The teacher's request didn't shock me like it did some. It turned out the teacher was going to serve fried grasshoppers to some of the more daring teachers for a back-to-school function or something like that --quite possibly in remembrance of the big Warrensburg grasshopper feast of 1875. 
Several librarians and I jumped on the project. 

The school teacher ended up buying two packages of hoppers and only used about half of one. I don’t remember if we or she found her source of supply.  She nonetheless remembered our eagerness to find information and offered the leftovers to us at the library.  Only one of us (guess who) was adventurous enough to take her up on the offer. She didn't want any payment –only to get them off her hands.

The research introduced me to websites and several books, which seemed to taunt me with, "I dare you to pursue this!" And here I am, unashamed to admit that I eat bugs from time to time, and on purpose.

Those commercially procured grasshoppers of the teacher's, though much larger than the ones in my yard, didn't impress me with their flavor or texture. Maybe they were fried in lard or shortening. Maybe they'd have been better with seasoning. I finished the open pack, and about half the other pack. The remainder ended up getting thrown out because I had no idea how long they stayed fresh. Over the months it took to reach that point, I'd looked at several of the books and websites we found while doing the original research.

Entomophagy is not just about fried grasshoppers, exotic monster-grubs from Papua New Guinea and chocolate-covered stuff. One source, and credit information escapes me, explained that the author had been researching entomophagy. On a trout-fishing trip, he ran into a huge hatch of mayflies and wondered what the trout found so good about them. He tried one, then another, and ended up laying his fishing equipment down and eating his fill of mayflies. Shortly after reading that, I was mowing on my tractor and my own yard happened to be quite thick with mayflies. I tried them too, and for quite some time, mayflies weren't safe around me.

During my early entomophagous experimentation, I discovered I like raw mayflies and young grasshoppers. Older hoppers were a bit too strongly flavored for me. In a recent book I read, the author pointed out something that should have been obvious to me. Eating uncooked insects poses the same threats of disease and parasites as eating under and uncooked meats of other types. I pondered that thought and my raw insect-eating days were all but over.

Not long after giving up raw "bugs" (entomologically incorrect, but etymologically correct, as The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook's David George Gordon points out), I ran across a bunch of tomato worms on my in-laws' tomato plants.  The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook has a recipe for Fried Green Tomato Hornworms, so I collected all I could find from those plants. I only got about a dozen. They ranged in size from about an inch and a half to almost four inches long. My wife humored me and didn't protest, even though she knew what I was up to. A month or so earlier, she only smiled (and maybe rolled her eyes) as she peeked into a frying pan to catch me dry-roasting some grasshoppers, which ultimately found their way powdered into a hoppin'-good hot sauce. The day after the tomato worm find, I caught several grasshoppers, a cicada, and a couple field crickets. I finally had enough critters to perform another culinary experiment.

After killing the snack by freezing, I thawed them out while tossing them in soy sauce. I cut up some white onion and sweet-pickled ripe red jalapenos (from my garden) and heated up a bit of olive oil. In went the critters and they sizzled up a storm as the water steamed out. A couple of the tomato worms burst, so I adjusted the heat and kept on frying and stirring until the grasshoppers turned deep red-brown and the worms turned almost yellow. Then I stirred in the vegetables and continued until they were nicely browned.

I must admit I was quite pleasantly impressed at the outcome! Aside from the oniony, sweet and hot, salty flavors from the other ingredients, which was really quite good, the individual critters had flavors and textures all their own. In many books, you'll read of "nutty" and "smoky" flavors. The tomato worms didn't have that. They were quite similar to thin tubes of thick pea soup. The mere bulk of "stuff" in a tomato worm may take some getting used to, but they're really not all that bad. The cicada tasted and felt like a nut stew inside a big sunflower seed shell. I couldn't get the shell chewed, so, like a piece of gum that'd lost its flavor, I spit the shell out. The grasshoppers were, like most people say, sort of smoky and nutty in flavor. I particularly liked the light and crispy texture. Finally, the crickets were most impressive, like crispy, smoked oyster. They were great!

When I get a good batch of kimchi, pickles, pepper brownies or jalapeno cookies, I like to share them, so I had to bring a big sample of the bugs to friends. I'd already picked out my intended victim, due to her reaction to the hoppin' good hot sauce a couple weeks earlier. When I asked if anyone was interested in my latest experiment, I said, "It's not the hoppin' good hot sauce that had the powdered grasshoppers in it." She said she didn't like the idea of hot stuff, but the grasshopper part sounded interesting. Be careful what you say.  You never know when it may come back to you.

Within minutes, I brought in the previous night's leftover stir-fry, having to fight myself not to eat it all up, so I could share it. My first victim looked nervous as she said, "I thought you'd maybe bring it in in a couple days, not just a minute or two." She didn't want an audience for her first entomophagous attempt, so I suggested we slip off to the break room. There was someone else in the break room, so we had an audience, but still not a big one. The audience was also one who tries most of my other stuff –but not this.

After looking into the stir-fry, the victim said, "Ew, I don't want to try a tomato worm!" I poked the chopsticks in and pulled out a grasshopper. She asked, "What's THAT?" The legs and wings were gone, and it looked similar to a long, shiny raisin.  I told her it's a grasshopper and her face went into a skeptical twist as she slowly extended her hand. I think she might have even given a little shiver as the morsel hit her hand. She put it in her mouth and slowly began to chew. Her eyes got big and she started to smile and said, "Oh my gosh! That was good!" She eagerly accepted another, bigger hopper. The response from later adventurous eaters has all been positive.

On my way to make a book-delivery to one of our library branches, I stopped at my favorite convenience store. Some of the guys who work there eagerly try my culinary experiments. One likes them well enough I often bring him his own bottle of the experiments. As I walked in, I asked if anyone felt adventurous. The new guy said, "If it's anything like that kimchi I tried, I'm game!" I said, "This stuff isn't hot at all," and for a second or two, silence fell. The old-timer with my culinary goodies broke the silence with a hesitating, "What's in it?" "Well, aside from soy sauce, onions, and a bit of those pickled jalapenos, there's critters."

The new guy said, "Whoa, not me! I'm skittish enough around bugs." I said, "It's your chance to take revenge." He didn't go for it, but Old-Timer said, "You know, I'd heard of eating insects and have been meaning to try it some time." I said I had grasshoppers and tomato hornworms. Old-Timer laughed and said no tomato worm for him, but he'll try a grasshopper.

Old-Timer started chewing and he put up his hand, saying, "Mmmm, Hmmm", between chews. "It tastes like… like… I can't quite put my finger on it… It's not bad…" Then I told the guys about the cicada and cricket. New Guy said he'd have tried a cricket "because they're little." Neither of them was disappointed that I'd already eaten the cicada.

Since then, I've learned to catch grasshoppers by flashlight on a cool night.  It’s similar to picking berries. New Guy also asked me to bring some grasshoppers again because he was ready to try them.

The other day, I thought I’d call a bluff. Two ladies who work at one of the libraries on my delivery route said they were interested in trying my entocuisine. I brought in part of batch number two. This time there were no tomato worms or cicadas, but it included peach-pit meats, which are very almond-like. One of the ladies declined after seeing the bowl, but the other didn't back down or even hesitate.

I ate one hopper while telling about the adapted recipe, as a patron who looked into the bowl staggered off with her hands fluttering like a butterfly, shuddering and repeating, "Ew, ew, ew." Daring Librarian had a cricket and the patron "Ew"ed again. Then Daring Librarian had a grasshopper, saying, "These are really good, though I'm most partial to crickets." Another "Ewww!" was heard in the distance. We didn't eat it all, so I had a fair bulk of leftovers for dinner.

While camping the following weekend, I was reading my Bible by lantern-light and a big grasshopper hit me in the chest. I picked it off and gently tossed it to the weeds. Another bounced off my head and landed in the Book. I only smiled as it hopped off into the dark. Before this, I'd probably have absent-mindedly squished 'em. The next day, again, while reading, a big ant crawled along the edge of the table and I reached out, tapped it with a finger and popped it in my mouth. I realized what I'd done, and glanced around to see if anyone saw me. I think I got away with it. Ants are tart!

So now, as I drive around on my library delivery routes and scan the countryside, it now hits home harder how abundantly God has provided for us. Am I ready to throw caution to the wind and be a hunter-gatherer? No way! I like my metal pans, freezers, refrigerators, running water, stove and oven, my car, and other benefits of civilization. Those, too, are gifts of God.

Early Experiences with Wild Edible Plants


Besides the earlier-mentioned prostrate knotweed, which, I don’t recommend since I’d not found any documentation on its ediblity, and it’s not all that good, some species of knotweed are edible. I’d tried lots of other plants.  


My early foraging didn’t strike me as being collecting wild edibles, because most of it was with my grandmother: and besides, “everybody did it”.  We went berry picking quite a bit.  We’d usually pick choke cherries, red raspberries or blackberries.  It was rare, but I did stumble across some wild strawberries, blueberries, and a special treat, while hunting with my dad, wintergreen berries.  I believe my grandmother mentioned in passing, that lamb’s quarter was edible, but I don’t remember having eaten it as a kid.  


On my own, I sampled what I called onion grass, which I later learned was wild onion greens.  I heard Indians ate acorns, so I tried some, too.  I wasn’t impressed.  I found them way too astringent --of course, now I know you’re supposed to boil them several times to leach the acid out of them. 
I didn’t really get serious about learning until I reached my 20s.

Beware of the "Facts"


For entomophagy to reach the widest audience, I honestly believe it needs to stay agenda-free.  You’ve probably heard how man is causing our climate to change for the worse, and that raising beef and other mainstream meats is adding copious amounts of greenhouse gasses to the air, and it’s eating up all the rain forests.  You’ve probably heard about how we’re going to run out of mainstream meat in just a few years.  There’s also lots of data to show otherwise, but, the media loves a crisis.  After all, normalcy doesn’t sell.  It’s not emotional or shocking.  My promotion of entomophagy is mainly for fun.  And why shouldn’t we look into all available foods? 

Some entomophagy and vegetarianism promoters will throw out convincing-sounding "facts" and data.  Insects are almost as high in protein, ounce for ounce, as other meats, with lots less fat while others claim insects to be high in fats and therefore a high energy food.  You can get everything you need from only plants.  A plants-only diet is lacking in some necessary nutrients.  Bugs and wild plants are jam packed with other nutrients you could never get in mainstream meats or non-organic farming.  Entomophagy could go a long way to solve world hunger while greening up the environment and saving all kinds of money on resource costs compared to beef.  Data can be manipulated or twisted or presented in ways to support just about any claim or point of view.  Don't blindly accept data and "facts" without thinking for yourself. 

 
I won't argue the claim that we in the West, eat too much beef or that there are other sources of protein besides mainstream meats.  Much of the data, or at least the conclusions based on that data, has too many holes in it.  You can probably tell by now, I’m not an activist promoter of entomophagy.  I feel like I’m in the minority in that respect.  Don't get into entomophagy or go on a crusade for it based on shock-data.  Do it because it's fun and could someday draw enough attention to provide a reasonable alternative to beef or porkIf you have enough fun with it, others will catch on, and maybe someday entomophagy will replace the other so-called environmentally unfriendly and less healthy mainstream meats.  It just makes sense to exploit all our food sources.  Get buggy! 

But Why Eat Bugs?


A good question to explore, other than “Why eat bugs?” is “Why NOT eat bugs?”  It’s gross.  Bugs are dirty.  What would the neighbors think?  Look at a pig or a cow by the barn.  Look at some fresh-from-the-nest eggs.  Look, even at a tomato or head of lettuce as it sits in the garden.  How about caviar, escargot, shrimp, crab…?  All those can be dirty.  We wash them.  We clean them.  We make them edible: just like we can do with bugs.  It’s gross, and what would others think, are just cultural excuses created out of ignorance.  The reasons not to eat bugs are not really reasonable, when you consider why we should eat bugs.


Most of the world already eats bugs, but most of the Euro-American world doesn’t.  Many experts speculate as to why this is, and I do, too.  
 

It’s been thought the reason people in industrialized societies learned to despise bugs came way earlier than industrialization. It began when agricultural crops started replacing hunting and gathering. Bugs began to be seen as pests, and therefore, bad. I think bug-hate is much closer to us than that in time.

For many in European and North American culture, an urban life is all they know. Limited exposure causes most to lack knowledge of insects. Many industrialized or urbanized folks see insects as filthy, like flies on poop or roaches around garbage. Many bugs spread disease. Ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, horse flies, deer flies and gnats all bite. Wasps and bees sting. Maggots infest spoiled foods. Therefore, insects are bad and nasty. The conclusion is based on experience, but at the same time, ignorance of the vast numbers of non-nasties and the good aspects of many of the nasties.

Rural people are usually exposed to a much wider array of bugs than are urban people. It might be likely that rural people could be easier to reach with entomophagy than the urbanized, since bugs are often more a part of rural lives. When bugs are a natural part of life, they’re easier to deal with, and maybe to accept as a possible food source. Living with something makes it more acceptable. I’ve not seen lice crawling on my wife or kids, and find the thought a bit grotesque, but if I was used to it, I don’t know. I might be able to pick and eat like I see ‘em do on documentaries.


Maybe we could reach urban folks by appealing to being stylish.  Entomophagy is getting more and more popular, and several celebrities speak about it openly.  Even some upscale restaurants feature insects on their menus.  So be cool; eat bugs!


I am curious about different foods and about my surroundings.  I also know many species of insects are edible and many are actually good!  Those are the main reasons I eat bugs.  They’re also the reasons I eat purslane, rose hips, spiderwort, day lilies, and drink sumac and goldenrod teas and roasted chicory root coffee.  Those are also the reasons I try unfamiliar items at a church pot-luck, and enjoy ethnic restaurant buffets.  Curiosity has caused me to eat turtle, snake, raccoon, ‘possum and even lutefisk: more than once!  After Mommy or Daddy quits providing everything we eat, isn’t curiosity pretty much the reason we try anything new?


Curiosity isn’t the only reason to eat bugs.  Bugs can be surprisingly nutritious.  They’ve got lots of protein.  Unlike most mainstream meats, bugs can also be high in calcium.  Some people say if we eat more bugs, we will reduce pollutants we put into our environment, and make our food supplies go farther.  Some researchers even think undigested fats in our intestines adhere to insect chitin for a ride out of our systems.  Vincent M. Holt, in 1885, wrote a most-excellent book on why we should eat bugs, without resorting to lots of technical and scientific data to publish with it.  The book is simply titled Why Not Eat Insects?   I like Holt’s approach.  If you want a bunch of data, there are lots of books out there, and hopefully, this won’t be the only book on entomophagy you read.  Curiosity, nutrition and environment are only three reasons to eat bugs.


It is fun to eat bugs.  Entomophagy is also quite a conversational tool, since it’s hard not to have an opinion on the topic.  Sharing your culinary creations is enjoyable, providing you don’t easily take offense at rejection.  Watching someone go from shuddering at the thought, to trying some, while their faces melt into smiles and hearing, “Wow! That’s good!” is quite rewarding.


The more popular entomophagy becomes, the less expensive it will be.  So let’s eat bugs and fuss at our local grocery stores until everyone carries them and even competes for price.

What Do They Taste Like?


As mentioned earlier, Mayflies are a pretty good choice for a first insect to eat.  I won't recommend eating them raw as I did back then.  Their flavor and texture were excellent, but, cooked is safer.  Anyway, I popped my first Mayfly in my mouth and chewed quickly, to get it over with.  It was very tender, with no hard legs or wings or anything else to gross out a typical Western palate.  The only crunchiness was akin to the softer parts of lettuce leaves, or maybe like poppy seeds.  Flavor-wise, it was rather like a cool fresh juicy leafy vegetable.  It wasn't my last one, by any means.  The Mayfly experience made me bolder.


Later in the summer we have lots of grasshoppers at our place.  Eating them raw, I discovered the younger, wingless grasshoppers were more tender and milder than the bigger adults.  That's not the case with all species.  Cone-headed, long-horned grasshoppers, katydids and green tree crickets have recently become favorites of mine.  While collecting, those will be separated from the others as more of a delicacy.  While walking outside with my son, years ago, I pointed to some lamb's quarter (an edible "weed") and said, "This stuff's edible and good," while popping the top of the plant in my mouth.  He gasped and asked, almost stuttering, 'D… Dad… did you s… see that…"  And I answered, "Sure, those grasshoppers are edible, too."  I was fairly pleased that the little green grasshopper stayed on that plant-tip as I picked it and popped it in my mouth.  


Most people who won’t try bugs can’t seem to get past their appearance.  After appearance, unknowns like texture and flavor tend to be obstacles.  Bugs aren’t like our more mainstream foods.  They have textures and flavors all their own.  Textures range from undetectable as when they’re ground into powder and added to flour, to soft and squishy like a boiled tomato worm, to hard and fibrous like an adult cicada or big grasshopper where you chew until you’re ready to quit, then spit out the shell.  Many people will say bugs have a smoky or nutty flavor.  To a point, they’re right, but the flavors are really more unique than that.  It can be an acquired taste, but it doesn’t take long to acquire it, at least for some species.


Some of the softer-bodied, least-threatening backyard species to eat include: conehead grasshoppers, katydids, crickets (house, field, leaf and camel), roaches (social barriers to roaches might make them inedible to the squeamish –as are meat-fly maggots for me at the time of this writing), mantids (too fascinating a bug for me to eat), freshly-hatched cicadas, mayflies, dragonflies (like mantids, I don’t like to hunt these), walking sticks, woodlice, and though not really “soft” bodied, Japanese beetle bodies are very brittle, making them quite easy to eat.


Harder to eat, due to heavier exoskeletons, are most grasshoppers, June bugs, giant waterbugs and adult cicadas.  These can be like chewing on sunflower seeds in the shell.  Chew ‘til you’ve extracted the flavors and edible parts, then spit out the shell, or prepare them in such a manner they become brittle and shatter when chewed.


Unique textures abound.  Caterpillars and grubs can be like sacks of thick soup.  They’re great for fear-factor events.  I like to tell contestants to bite down slowly and feel the skin tighten up and get almost hard.  Faces of on-lookers twist into all sorts of frightened or grossed-out contortions.   Then the contestant almost jumps as the skin bursts and the juice splashes into their mouths.  Usually, they ponder the experience for a few seconds and finish up with, “That was pretty good!”  Consider, also, the textures of spiders, scorpions, slugs, snails and earthworms.  Earthworms cook up to a texture like soft rubber bands.  Textures of even the harder bugs can be changed with different heats of frying, or with dehydrating.  I like dehydrated bugs, as lots of the fibrous hard-to-chew stuff becomes quite crispy and brittle.  Imagine light crepes or crispy rice cereal or thin hard-candy coatings as textures.  Chew thoroughly, as some of the parts can be difficult to swallow if they go down wrong.
If you don’t want to deal with the more-difficult-to-chew parts, remove them before eating or cooking.  Some people recommend breaking the legs, wings and wing covers off the bugs first.  Some take the heads off.  I usually don’t bother.  What you do is up to you.


The flavors vary between different bug species.  Some taste quite a bit like their food.  Various caterpillars and grasshoppers taste like leafy greens.  Some bugs have sweetish flavors, and many have faintly smoky or nutty flavors.  I don’t particularly like using that “smoky nutty” description, because it’s used a lot in other books and writings on insects.  It’s like saying about other meats, “it tastes like chicken.”   There’s way more to bug flavors than smoked nuts.


Little invertebrates (bugs) I’ve intentionally eaten include 2 kinds of roach, 4 crickets, around a dozen grasshoppers/katydids, 5 or more scarab/June beetles, over 4 beetle larvae, 5 true bugs, darkling and click beetles, stick bugs, May flies, dragon and May fly nymphs, tomato worms, green and gray “inch” worms, hackberry butterfly larvae, bagworms, tent caterpillars, army and cut worms, at least 3 kinds of cicada, dobson flies and nymphs, mousie grubs (hover fly larva), crane fly larvae, wood lice, more than 3 kinds of plant hopper, at least 3 kinds of ants, 2 wasp larvae, at least 4 kinds of earthworm, 5 kinds of commercial canned or frozen insects and more. So I’ve tried well over 70 kinds of bugs; I’ve got some favorites.

After having tried many different kinds of bugs, my favorites include squash and shield bugs, June beetles, crickets, big grasshopper “drumsticks”, bagworms and Japanese beetles. Squash bugs are naturally sweet with a faint spiciness. June beetles have a smoky flavor and are substantial but still easy enough to chew. Japanese beetles are very brittle and shatter when bitten, making them really easy to eat. Crickets and bagworms are soft to chew. Crickets have a sort of shrimp-like flavor and bagworms are planty-juicy. Grasshopper drumsticks (not dried) are a treat. Bite the tip off the fat end of the leg and use your teeth to squeeze the meat out of the broken end. What you end up with is a B.B to small pea-sized chunk of meat which is very crab-like in both flavor and texture.

Some aquatic bugs taste much like the water from which they’re taken, which can be somewhat stagnant, at times. Grubs can also take on the flavor of the leaf-litter or dirt in which they live. I don’t particularly care for that dirty-water or rotted-leaf flavor. I also include bamboo caterpillars and silkworm pupae as examples that “edible” doesn’t necessarily mean “good”.

To summarize this section: Bugs taste like bugs.  Bugs feel like bugs in your mouth.  I know those statements wouldn’t convince many people to try bugs.  It’s really something that has to be experienced.  After you’ve chewed them up and swallowed them, you’re likely to say, “Hmm.  That wasn’t too bad.”  Or even, “Wow, that was good!”  But like books on most topics, reading about eating bugs and actually eating them are completely different, so don’t stop here!

Acquisition


You want to eat bugs, so now you’ve got to find them.  Acquisition narrows down to three ways: buy them from a commercial supplier; raise your own; catch the locals.  Since I’m an outdoorsy type, this book will concentrate most on the third method.


The easiest way to get your bugs is to buy them.  Larger ethnic markets sometimes carry commercially canned, frozen or dried bugs.  Other places you can buy bugs are bait and tackle stores, pet shops, bird-watching suppliers, home and garden centers and on the Internet.  Always know the ingredients.  Some pet food insects feature ‘reptile attractant’ and I have no idea what that is.  If you buy your bugs to eat, you’ll save lots of work, but miss out on lots of fun.  Commercial insects can also be pricy.  The missed fun is like buying a TV dinner, compared to hunting or fishing, or gardening for a meal.


Raising bugs yourself, doesn’t need to be highly expensive or take lots of room.  A bug farm doesn’t need to be labor intensive, either.  Crickets, roaches and mealworms are easily-raised home grown critters.


A mealworm farm starts easily.  Begin with two shallow plastic containers.  With lids is best, to keep the nerves of skittish family members at ease.  Put an inch or so of bedding in the pans.  Bran of some sort is most common for bedding material.  I get mine from a local feed store.  Into the first pan, put your mealworms, and wait.  Occasionally, give them a small slice of apple, or potato or other moist fruit or vegetable to provide water.  They don’t need much.  Watch the pan when pupae start to form, because beetles will follow shortly.  Start the second pan with beetles.  When you’ve got enough beetles in pan number two, start harvesting pan number one.  After a while, you should have a pan for harvest, and another with the next batch growing up and getting fat.  That said, I find it easier just to buy dried mealworms from my local wild bird food supplier.


Crickets and roaches are almost as easy as mealworms, but require more escape proof containers.  Tightly-sealing aquariums are good for them.  They’re also a little more dependent on water than mealworms.   Crickets and roaches use moist dirt for bedding, and might even need places to hide.  I’m not sure why they need hiding places.  Maybe they’re more self-conscious than mealworms, or suffer from insecurity issues.


 I get most of my edible bugs by collecting wild ones which have raised themselves.  Catching your own bugs raises the more safety questions than commercially acquired bugs.  One big reason more developed countries enjoy better health is we pay much closer attention to cleanliness.  Cleanliness is very important when it comes to food.  If you're going to eat bugs, which too many people think are filthy in the first place, you're going to want to pay special attention to making sure you only eat clean ones.  Another very important question that needs to be answered before eating is whether the species is safe to eat.  Some species, clean or not, can be very toxic.


The most important step is to study your food, and know what species have proven to be safe or unsafe to eat in the past.  In a true survival situation, you might not have the luxury of knowing the various species.  For wild plants, there is a universal safety test, but I've not found anything like it for bugs.  I threw a bit on bugs into the plant test.  After all, one can’t eat plants without getting a bug from time to time.  The test is as follows:

Universal Edibility Test

Even before step one of the Universal Edibility Test, I heard of another pre-step:  If there’s a bunch of dead animals lying around the stuff you’re about to test, you should avoid it as a possible edible.  And if there are insects eating that plant, chances are, that insect probably isn’t a good choice for a snack either.

1. Test only one part of a potential food plant at a time.  Treat different stages of insect development as different critters.
2. Separate the plant into its basic components - leaves, stems, roots, buds, and flowers.
3. Smell the food for strong or acid odors. Remember, smell alone does not indicate something is edible or inedible.
4. Do not eat for 8 hours before starting the test.
5. During the 8 hours you abstain from eating, test for contact poisoning by placing a piece of the food you are testing on the inside of your elbow or wrist. Usually 15 minutes is enough time to allow for a reaction.
6. During the test period, take nothing by mouth except purified water and the plant part you are testing.
7. Select a small portion of a single part and prepare it the way you plan to eat it.
8. Before placing the prepared food in your mouth, touch a small portion (a pinch) to the outer surface of your lip to test for burning or itching.
9. If after 3 minutes there is no reaction on your lip, place the food on your tongue, holding it there for 15 minutes.
10. If there is no reaction, thoroughly chew a pinch and hold it in your mouth for 15 minutes. Do not swallow.
11. If no burning, itching, numbing, stinging, or other irritation occurs during the 15 minutes, swallow the food.
12. Wait 8 hours. If any ill effects occur during this period, induce vomiting and drink a lot of water.
13. If no ill effects occur, eat 0.25 cup of the same plant part prepared the same way. Wait another 8 hours. If no ill effects occur, the food, as prepared, is most-likely safe for eating.


CAUTION

Test all parts of the plant or insect life stage for edibility, as some plants and insects have both edible and inedible parts or stages. Do not assume that a part that proved edible when cooked is also edible when raw. Test the part raw to ensure edibility before eating raw. The same part or plant may also produce varying reactions in different individuals.


More Safety Points


Avoid gathering wild edibles close to roads, especially downhill from a road as they may be contaminated by oil runoff from cars.  Also consider herbicides and pesticides.

Some parts of a wild edible may be safe to eat and other parts may be poisonous so be sure to treat different parts as separate entities. While common fruits such as apple, cherry, tomato, and mango are edible, parts of these plants are toxic.  Wasps and bees might be edible, but their venom glands contain potentially dangerous toxins.

Don't collect wild edibles (plants or critters) from water in which you wouldn't willingly go swimming. Boiling the edibles may help to disinfect them.

If you have a very sensitive digestion or problems with allergies, you should avoid using wild edibles as food.  They’re not as thoroughly researched as mainstream foods, and some say insects should be avoided if you have seafood (crab/lobster/shrimp) allergies.

Sometimes, but not always, toxins can be boiled away.  The arum family (araceae –Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Green Dragon) contains high concentrations of oxalic acid that aren’t always neutralized by boiling.

Avoid unknown plants that have a bean pod or look like a tomato, potato, or morning glory.  Many nightshade members are toxic.

Avoid wild edibles and plant parts that smell like almonds or root beer or have a chemical or otherwise disagreeable odor.

Avoid “edibles” that may have developed mold, or dead critters if you don't know the cause of death.

Regarding insects, a first rule, and really not a rule at all, as a short study will reveal, deals with an insect's appearance.  "Red, orange or yellow; avoid that fellow.  Green black or brown; wolf it down."  If an insect is drawing attention to itself, it must be pretty confident that it's safe from predators.  If an insect spends its life trying to hide or not be seen, it might be the bug knows it's tasty.  

As thorns warn of plant danger, spines, stingers, odor, bites and other obvious defenses warn of potential bug-danger.  If your bug is flashy or displays warning signs, you probably shouldn't mess with it.  

These are NOT absolute rules, in the same manner "leaflets three, let it be" is not an absolute rule.  If we all followed that rule, we wouldn't eat strawberries or raspberries or lots of beans and peas.  The above are first-line safety warnings for those who might not know what they're getting into.  

For the most part, grasshoppers, katydids, crickets, roaches, dragonflies, mantids, scarab (the June-buggy ones) beetles and white and gold larvae of beetles are pretty safe to eat, even if you don’t know the individual species.  Even some of the above can be unsafe if they’re unclean or diseased.

You need to know your bug's history before eating it.  As you wouldn't pull a plant out of a bubbling sewage lagoon and pop it into your mouth, you shouldn't pull a bug from a dumpster or off a juicy rotting bit of road kill and expect a tasty, safe snack.  You wouldn't eat an apple off the tree in an orchard if you knew it was covered with pesticides.  If you thought there might be some poisons on an otherwise edible plant, you would wash it.  Likewise, you shouldn't collect bugs in an area where they or their food plants might have been poisoned.  Don’t pick Japanese beetles off sprayed rose plants.  The bugs you eat should be clean.

You might find your bugs already dead.  A friend could give some to you, or you could even find them in a store or market for sale.  You really need to know how they died and how long they've been dead, and how they've been stored.  The main question here, is, “Do you trust the source?”  Since bugs are structurally similar to many shellfish, I like to suspect them to be subject to quick spoilage.  

As the plant test stresses, start with tiny quantities of an unknown insect, not a big mouthful.  Work up to meal-sized portions very slowly.

When you consider the Universal Edibility Test, note the time it takes to test a potential wild edible.  You could be days or weeks before finding something you can safely eat.  There’s no substitute for knowing what you’re doing before being put in a survival situation.

On several occasions, I tried bugs for which I’d seen no documentation on edibility.  My experience was lots more than simply knowing “people can eat bugs.”  I employed the bug safety rhyme.  I knew of similar edibles.  I knew the bugs’ environment.  I wanted to try more critters.  I’d since found documentation on some, but my own writing is the only documentation I’d seen for others.  Those experimental species for me include: squash and box elder bugs, water boatmen, crane flies, bark boring beetle larvae and hackberry butterfly larvae.

Once you’re certain of what kinds of bugs you can eat, you’ll want to actually collect them.  You’re now a predator.  You can catch bugs by hand.  You can trap them.  You can pick them like berries when they’re vulnerable like when cold or on a window screen.  Select your quarry and go after it!  

Some of my common prey includes: grasshoppers and crickets, ants (all stages), wasp and bee larvae and pupae, June bugs and grubs, Japanese beetles, click beetles and their grubs, diving beetles, bark beetle larvae, darkling beetle larvae and pupae, crane flies and their larvae, mosquitoes, mantids, walking sticks, dragonflies, May flies, wood lice, roaches, cicadas, hackberry butterfly larvae, tomato and tobacco horn worms, cutworms, bagworms, shield bugs, marmorated stink bugs, giant and medium waterbugs, water boatmen, water scorpions and more.

Spot and pounce is a simple way to get bugs.  It might be a good source of exercise, too.  Just walk around ‘til you spot a grasshopper or cricket or other bug known to be edible, and sneak up on it and grab.  Be careful not to smash it.  Bugs might be proportionately lots stronger than we are, but we’re way bigger.  Some bugs bite or sting, so be prepared for it.  Some have prickly parts that might startle you.

A net offers an advanced approach to spot and pounce.  I like to make my nets out of curtain sheer material, rather than the flimsy stuff sold as butterfly netting.  An old badminton or tennis racket can make a nice and durable frame, but it is a bit on the small side.  Tools make our work easier.  Traps are other tools which make the work easier.  

Almost anyone can turn on a light on a warm Spring or Summer night and pick bugs off a window screen.  Some bugs, like Japanese beetles and June beetles can be attracted to traps.  Like I said before, you need to be sure of where the bugs came from.  Trapping probably shouldn’t be done in an urban setting, as those bugs you bring in, may have been exposed to toxins.  If there’s any chance of contamination, bugs from traps using chemical attractants should not be eaten.  Grasshoppers can be easily collected on cool late summer or autumn nights.  They can also be fairly easily netted on cool mornings.

Carry a collection container so you’re ready when you get opportunities to collect.  Eventually you’ll get to the point you won’t startle easily at bugs when most people jump.  You’ll grab, instead.


Here’s a little story of one of my early experiences.  Warm, humid and dark, with a little breeze.  I'd been looking, for days, for the big cicada hatch (Brood XIX in 2011) that was supposed to be happening.  I'd also been leaving lights on and checking windows for June bugs and other critters.  All total, over the past couple weeks, I'd only gotten five or six June bugs, and seen only two empty cicada shells and one adult.  Up until this night, it had been too cool and clear.  Critters are not nearly so apt to swarm around lights during bright moon-lit or cool nights.

Then it happened!  We didn’t get nearly the hatch of our neighbors to the south and east of us.  I was quite excited to pick up to 25 emerging cicadas per tree trunk, while our southeastern neighbors were sweeping them off their sidewalks to keep from slipping in them.  The warmth even brought out the June beetles in pretty big numbers.

Get outside after dark, with a flashlight.  Look anywhere you can think –tree trunks, undersides of branches and leaves, fences, flower patches, buildings, and even on the ground.  You'll probably surprise yourself at the stuff you'll find.  Collect your bugs alive, and kill them by freezing.  Store them that way until you're ready to cook them.

I go collecting with a small plastic coffee creamer bottle.  It's got a little shaker lid with a hinged-door on the opening just the right size for most June bugs, grasshoppers, cicadas and more.  When I'm done collecting, I put the bottle in the freezer, and about 15 minutes later, the critters are ready to sort into sandwich bags. 

I found lots of June bugs on foliage, and not all on my window screens.  They seem to be rather partial to young leaves from sucker plants that sprout from stumps.  Periodical cicadas, when they’ve got a nice hatch on, can be found on just about anything.  Annual cicadas are bigger than periodicals, hatch a week or so later, but don't hatch in such bulk.  Then there's grasshoppers late in the summer.  Almost all these critters pick quite easily.  They're not nearly so skittish at night –particularly the diurnal insects like grasshoppers.  Fall insects, like grasshoppers, pick best on cool nights when the temperatures have them slowed down a bit.  Crickets are probably easiest to acquire by trapping, or from a bait shop, and they're mighty tasty!  I'm particularly fond of those brown camel crickets, common in many basements.

I seriously don't believe a few entomophagists can put a dent in an insect population, unless the insect is rare to begin with.  After about a week of collecting that Spring, I'd gotten about a quarter pound of June bugs and cicadas in the freezer –more cicadas than June bugs.  I've got a little less than that in mealworms I raised in my basement.  Try raising your own ento-treats, but if you pick wild, be respectful.  Never eradicate a population –unless, of course, you're picking pests from your garden.  And if you pick regularly, you shouldn't need to use pesticides.  Reduced pesticide use will make the green folks happy.

So now you've got all this neat stuff you can eat.  Let’s fix some bugs!



Cooking your Bugs


Pouring live grasshoppers into your frying pan won’t work.  Hopefully none of you are turning here to see what you might have done wrong, while grasshoppers jump all over your kitchen.  Your bugs should, for most practical purposes, be dead before cooking.  A very humane way to kill bugs is by freezing.  Their systems simply slow down until they stop.  Start cooking with dead bugs.  As stated earlier, make sure you know how your bugs died.


Clean your bugs by rinsing them well in a colander under a brisk spray of water.  Although not a necessary step, pre-boiling your insects can help keep them from spoiling.  If you boil promptly after killing, you won’t wonder in what state that package in the freezer might be.  You can always serve as is, or re-cook.  Of course, if you’re ready to cook and serve, the boiling can be omitted after the kill.  The recipes which follow assume the bugs have been pre-boiled, unless specifically stated otherwise.
Some experts say rinsing and boiling aren’t necessary and that they take from an insect’s natural flavors.  Lots of those flavors are said to be in the pheromones on their bodies, which can be rinsed off.  I still like to at least rinse my wild edibles –plants and bugs.

Boiled Bugs


Boiled insects will serve well at fear factor events, or for survival purposes.  Although some bug species taste OK boiled, further cooking can enhance flavors and textures immensely!  


Place bugs in a saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.  Boil for storage, after you’ve killed the insects.  Boiled bugs are ready to eat or store.  Boiling is not necessary if you plan otherwise to immediately cook and serve.


Don’t throw out that broth!  You can use it for fear factor events as “Bug Juice” or use it to make rice or barley.  The broth has a subtle pleasant flavor similar to goldenrod tea.  Some of you are asking, “similar to what!?”  Goldenrod tea is as close a similar flavor as I could come up with.  Of course, if you have no clue what goldenrod tea tastes like, I forgive you.  Expand your horizons.


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Only a few specific recipes are given here.  This assumes, since you’re adventurous enough to eat bugs, you’re likely adventurous and creative enough to adapt other recipes to insects: specially after getting some basics.  My first successful, or share-worthy recipe was Sweet-Pickled Jalapeno and Onion and Grasshopper Stir-Fry.


Before you can fix this recipe, you need the ingredients and I’ve never seen sweet-pickled jalapenos and onions in a grocery store.  The first recipe is one that can be used for lots of different purposes.  It’s a recipe to prepare one of the ingredients for the insect recipe. 


Sweet-Pickled Jalapeno and Onion


Core and seed a mess of jalapeno peppers (use rubber gloves, as the juices can soak into your skin quite readily).  Dehydrate the cores and seeds for later grinding and powdering for other recipes.  Cut the meats of the jalapenos and a big onion (white onions are my favorite, as they tend to be stronger flavored) into one-inch chunks.  I like to generate about two cups of each.  The leftover will freeze just fine if you want to pickle more.  Put the cut vegetables in jars that can be readily sealed (canning jars).


Bring to a boil, one cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, and three quarters of a cup of sugar (more in those proportions as needed).  Pour the boiling brew quickly over the cut vegetables until they’re just covered.  Quickly seal the jars.


Set the jars aside at least overnight, or a couple days to let the flavors blend well.


Sweet-Pickled Jalapeno and Onion and Grasshopper Stir-Fry


Heat up a small amount of oil in a large frying pan.  When hot, put in about a cup of the drained sweet-pickled jalapenos and onions.  Stir nearly constantly until the onions turn transluscent.  Add about a cup of grasshoppers and stir the mix until you’re certain the grasshoppers are hot and re-cooked fully.  If you start with freshly killed hoppers, cook until they turn a deep reddish brown.


*****


There’s more you can do with the pickle/stir-fry recipe.  If you’ve got leftover peppers and onions, they dehydrate into a nicely sweet and hot hard crunchy candy-like state.  The leftover pickle juice can be re-boiled and poured over boiled grasshoppers, pickling them the same way you did with the peppers and onions.  The hoppers are good that way and they, too, can be dehydrated into a crispy candy.


Before you crisp the hoppers, I need to tell you about the drumsticks.  Properly eaten reveals them to be quite a delicacy –at least it’s another favorite of mine.  Take a drumstick and bite the tip off the thick end.  Gently bite down on the narrow end and pull the thick end through your teeth and squeeze the meat out as though it was a tiny tough sausage, or like a tiny tube of toothpaste from which you’re extracting the last bits.  Grasshopper drumsticks are well worth the work, but it’s a bit tedious.  After you’ve tried the drumsticks, then try dehydrating the rest into crispiness.  I like to save the drumsticks before candying.  That brings us to candied bugs.  This has worked nicely on cicadas, which can hatch out in vast numbers and can be very easily collected.


Candied Bugs


Make a very-thick sweet syrup by stirring sugar into a liquid.  I make mine with freshly squeezed fruit juice like from raspberries or I use my sweet, hot fish and rice sauce.  Pour the syrup over your pre-cooked bugs and stir gently until they’re thoroughly coated.  They can even be previously dehydrated.   Dehydrate until the syrup is no longer drippy.  It will still feel sticky when done.  For convenience, I leave the bugs in the dehydrator overnight.  Spread the bugs out on a non-absorbant flexible surface like foil or wax paper.  Allow to cool –refrigerator or freezer really speeds it up.  When cool, the bugs should flex off the sheets easily.


Other Basics


Fried:  Use olive oil, as it’s not as bad for you as other oils –however, be more patient, because it doesn’t do as well as other oils at higher temperatures.  Since insects are quite delicate, stir very gently, but constantly.


Baked: Low temps are recommended, as bugs will burn fairly quickly.


Dehydrated: Like you would meat, since bugs really are meat.  Very crispy, without burning or added oil makes this a favorite method of mine.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, try your lowest oven setting for an hour, and then checking for crispness from time to time –at least every 15 minutes, as your lowest oven temp is probably quite a bit hotter than a dehydrator.


Pickled:  Sweet pickled with juices from the first recipe.  Bring your juice to a boil and pour over the bugs to cover.  Serve when cool.  If you plan to store them, use a glass canning jar and seal the lids very quickly after covering with the boiled juice.


Crispy Snacks: Use the recipe from any crisp rice cereal for crispy snacks, substituting crisp bugs for a portion of the cereal.  I usually go about half and half.


Chocolate-Covered:  Melt chocolate in a double boiler.  Stir crisp bugs into the chocolate.  Remove the bugs and allow them to cool.


Spice-tossed:  After frying, or baking with light oil, place bugs in a plastic bag of your favorite seasoning and shake well.  I like taco seasoning mix.


Broth for Rice or Barley:  After boiling the bugs, use the broth/water for rice or barley.


Croutons:  Put some crispy spiced and dehydrated beetles on a salad.


Although some people don’t consider non-insect invertebrates to be “bugs”, I’ll include some of them here anyway.  Many varieties of slugs and snails are edible, as are earthworms.   Put earthworms in peat or cornmeal for a few days before you boil them (20 minutes, with garlic).  It helps purge the fine gritty dirt from their systems.  They have a taste sort of like earthy fish, with a texture similar to squid.

Sharing Your Creations


Public presentations are fun, and a great way to spread the word about eating insects.  When the people first arrive, they see the display and gasp, “Ewww!”, “Oh gross!”  “Are those real bugs?”  Some turn away.  Some slap their hands over their mouths.  Some respond in more neutral ways or many times, favorably.  “Yeah.  I had to eat bugs in survival school.”  “Do you have any of those witchiti grubs?  I saw those on the Anthropology Network or Cuisine Channel.”  “I knew a guy who ate a grasshopper.”  “Do you catch all these yourself?”  “How do you say that? EN-tomo-faggy?”  “Oh wow! Are those, like, the June bugs on our window screens?”  “I’ve heard insects are edible.  I’ve just never had an opportunity.”  “Are these for us to eat?”  “Can I try one?”


Don’t work too hard to coax someone to try.  Allow the unwilling their right to refuse.  Allow them their dignity and don’t ridicule their choice not to try.  Never sneak bugs into someone’s food and giggle saying, “Ha ha ha! Guess what you just ate!”  Sometimes the reluctant will warm, but often they’ll spit it back out or hack or even retch, making it harder to get the mildly-bold to try.  When you force folks to try bugs, or surprise people “after” they’ve eaten them, you give entomophagy, and yourself, a bad name.  Only encourage the willing to eat.  Obviously, they’ll be the most receptive.  Those unwilling at first, often soften as they watch willing eaters.


To help popularize entomophagy, I really believe we’ve got to avoid making it a political issue. Avoid suggestion of any legislation (green or humanitarian). If anyone feels a threat, they’ll fight it. Present entomophagy as simply a fun new food and not politics.  Insects and other little invertebrates are just other kinds of animals. They’re no dirtier, and often cleaner than those animals we accept as food. Present edibility to Scout groups, 4-H, other youth events like Fear Factor events. University and high school/middle school groups like home economics, anthropology, biology, nutritional studies are good audiences to target, as are state Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources. 
Brainstorm those publicity ideas!  Find a way to attach bugs to a historical organization like I did. My Johnson County Historical Society hosted its first foraged feast, featuring many wild insects, in memory of the 1875 grasshopper plague and subsequent feast.

There’s lots of data to refute the claims that eating insects will save our environment and the world from hunger. Of course, there’s data to say otherwise. Although entomophagy could maybe help in those areas, I think our main aim should be the fun and unique taste treats which would otherwise be missed without intentionally eating bugs. I didn’t mention anything potentially political and my historical society was in unanimous agreement that we’d do the bug feast.

Dispel the cultural fears and play up the nutritional and recreational gains (it was fun one night after a church function to have little kids and even white-haired elders catching June bugs under the porch light for one of my up-coming programs). Possible environmental and humanitarian benefits could be reserved for audiences where you know that interest would be positively tapped. Most people will resist the thought of infringing on their beef, pork and poultry. I, for one, am against anything that would drive their prices up. We must figure out how to get insect prices down to compete with mainstream meats. If they’re as easy to raise, and take as few resources as is claimed, it shouldn’t be too difficult.



Bibliography


Angier, Bradford. How to Stay Alive in the Woods.  Macmillan Publishing Co. New York. 1956. 


DeFoliart, Gene, Florence Vaccarello Dunkel, David Gracer, Ed. Food Insects Newsletter: Chronicle of a Changing Culture. Aardvark Global Publishing. Salt Lake City. 2009.


Gordon, David George. The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. Ten Speed Press.  Berkeley, CA. 1998.


Gordon, David George. The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane. Sasquatch Books.  Seattle.  2010.


Herter, George Leonard and Berthe E. How to Get Out of the Rat Race and Live on $10 a Month. Herter's, Inc. Waseca, MN. 1975.


Holt, Vincent M. Why Not Eat Insects? Pryor Publications Whitstable and Walsall.  Whitstable, Kent, UK. 2007 reprint of 1885 publication.


Jaden, Jenna, and the University of Maryland Cicadamaniacs. Cicada-Licious (2nd ed.) University of Maryland. 2004. 


MacClancy, Jeremy and Jeya Henry, Helen Macbeth ed's. Consuming the Inedible: Neglected Dimensions of Food Choice. Berghahn Books. NY. 2009.


Manes, Stephen.  Chocolate-Covered Ants. Scholastic, Inc. NY. 1990


Menzel, Peter, and Faith D'Aluisio. Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects. Ten Speed Press. Berkeley, CA. 1998.


Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Beetles, Lightly Toasted. Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers.  NY. (1987) 1989.


Ramos-Eldorduy, Julieta.  Creepy Crawly Cuisine: The Gourmet Guide to Edible Insects.  Park Street Press, Rochester, VT. 1998.


Rockwell, Thomas. How to Eat Fried Worms. Yearling. NY.  (1973) 2006


Rost, Amy, compiler.  Survival Wisdom and Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Subsist in the Wilderness. Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, Inc. NY. 2007. 


Taylor, Ronald L. and Barbara J. Carter. Entertaining With Insects. Salutek Publishing Co. Yorba Linda, CA. 1996.


U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force. Survival, Evasion and Recovery. 1999.

Wild Edible Plants


Angier, Bradford. Feasting Free on Wild Edibles. Stackpole Books.  Harrisburg, PA. 1983


Angier, Bradford. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants.  Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, PA. 1982.


Brill, Steve and Evelyn Dean.  Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants: in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places.  HarperCollins Publishers.  NY. 1994.


The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants.  Department of the Army.  Skyhorse Publishing. NY. 2009.


Couplan, Francois, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. Keats Publishing, Inc. New Canaan, CT. 1998.


Forey, Pamela, and Cecelia Fitzsimmons. An Instant Guide to Edible Plants.  Gramercy Books. NY. 2001.


Phillips, Jan.  Wild Edibles of Missouri.  Missouri Department of Conservation. Jefferson City, MO.  1979.


Tatum, Billy Joe. Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook. Workman Publishing Co.  NY. 1976.

Plant and Insect Identification


Arnett, Ross H, Jr and Richard L Jacques, Jr. Simon and Schuster’s Guide to Insects.  Simon and Schuster, NY. 1981.


Brockman, C. Frank.  A Field Guide to the Major Native and Introduced Species North of Mexico: Trees of North America. Golden Press. NY. 1979.


Borror, Donald J. and Richard E. White.  A Field Guide to Insects: America north of Mexico.  Peterson Field Guides.  Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston. 1970


Capinera, John L., et al. Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets of the United States.  Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY. 2004.  
 

Cranshaw, Whitney.  Garden Insects of North America. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 2004.


Denison, Edgar.  Missouri Wildflowers.  Missouri Department of Conservation.  Jefferson City, MO. 1978


Heitzman, J. Richard and Joan E. Butterflies and Moths of Missouri.  Missouri Department of Conservation. Jefferson City, MO, 1987.


Niering, William A. and Nancy C. Olmstead. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Alfred A. Knopf. NY.  1979


Settergren, Carl and R.E.McDermott.  Trees of Missouri. University of Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station.   1966.


Venning, Frank D.  A Guide to Field Identification: Wildflowers of North America.  Golden Press.  NY. 1984.


White, Richard E.  A Field Guide to the Beetles of North America.  Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin Company.  Boston. 1983.


 Zim, Herbert S. and Clarence Cottam.  Insects.  Golden Press. NY. 1956.

Websites

June bugs and More  http://intotheborderlands.blogspot.com/2008/06/eating-brown.html


Food Insects Newsletter    http://www.hollowtop.com/finl_html/finl.html


http://www.food-insects.com/


Grasshopper Recipes  http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~cbader/ghprecwithinsects.html


How Stuff Works "How Entomophagy Works" http://people.howstuffworks.com/entomophagy4.htm


Girl Meets Bug "Eat Bugs, Save the World"  http://www.girlmeetsbug.com/


Facebook “groups”:  "Missouri Entomophagy" and "Wild Edibles of Missouri" are fun and active.