Coming down first - exceptionally, must be the third time this year - this morning to make tea etc. I noticed, gulping uneasily with apprehension, that one of J.'s local recipe books is open, ominously, at a page featuring a dish called Lou Cagaraoulat. This translates as something like Snail Casserole.
Here's the recipe, for 6 people:
Coulis of 8 tomatoes
3 good slices of raw cured ham
½ litre of dry white wine
Garlic, sprig of thyme, 2 bay leaves.
Cook the snails for 1 hour in pressure cooker, covered with water well infused with the herbs, etc.
Drain well when cooked.
Dice the ham, fry to sizzling in a large casserole. Add the sliced onions, thyme and bay leaves and then the white wine.
Cook slowly. Mix in the snails when the sauce has thickened, cook for 10 minutes, then add crushed garlic. Each snail should be coated with the sauce.
Serve with white wine.
One damp morning some years ago I was surprised to find a van parked beneath our walnut tree and voices from the drystone wall by one of our little ponds. I went to investigate. A family of about 6 were busy picking all the snails lodging in the wall crevices, supposing themselves secure beneath the covering ivy. They were busy filling plastic supermarket bags with them. Any enterprising Brians trying to escape were ruthlessly shoved back in again. There must have been easily enough to complete the recipe above. They were our snails, beyond doubt. These people were nothing but common snail poachers.
What would you have done? Ask for them back? Ask them to replace every single one of them where they found them? Required them to pay for them?
Quickly weighing up the pros, cons and possible outcomes, I said I would have been pleased if they'd asked beforehand, but all the same I wished them bon appetit. Enjoy. After all, I wasn't going to eat them.
When J. came down I said Erm, you weren't thinking of ...
No, no, she said. If you look on the same page there's a recipe for olive bread I was going to try.