Snails have an established place in contemporary cuisine, but their reputation among gourmets has suffered ups and downs and their current prestige is relatively recent. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the snail disappeared from the noble tables, it was a great French gourmet, politician for more signs, Talleyrand himself, who made them fashionable again. And his revival came precisely because he asked his boss kitchen, by then the mythical Antonin Careme who prepared them for the dinner that he offered to the Tsar of Russia. From that moment the fame of the snails became fashionable again.
However, together with a few similar mollusks, they occupy - or should occupy - a privileged place in human prehistoric food, as they must have been one of the first sources of protein of animal origin.
Eating snails as an edible animal is as old as humanity itself.
Nestor Lujan wrote in his day “many times we have thought, with extreme curiosity, about the courage or desperate hunger that those who ate the oyster, the snail or the barnacle for the first time must have felt”.
The raising of snails comes from very old since their raising is very simple, not as easy as María Luisa Rocamora quotes in her book "The perfect Housewife," Snails are born by spontaneous generation ", I need to add and the children of Paris.
The fossil remains found in the prehistoric settlements are enormous, the snail shells are so abundant in some Mesopotamian sites that it is evident that the cultivated snail was a common product on the tables of the ancient Sumerians.
Is it possible that this story had started much earlier? Paleolithic shell piles generally contain larger varieties of snails than they do today. Consequently, it seems as if those who ate snails at the end of the ice age already selected them according to their size, according to Felipe Fernández Armesto “It is difficult to get out of the limits of a developmental and progressive model of the history of food, according to which it is unthinkable that no food was cultivated in such early times; but snail farming is so simple, requires so little technical effort, and is so conceptually close to the usual methods of gatherers that it seems doctrinaire even stubbornness to exclude such a possibility. The practice may be a few millennia older than is generally believed. In places where piles of discarded shells are part of a stratigraphic sequence, it is evident that snail-eating societies preceded colonists who relied on more complex hunting technologies. In the Frankhthi cave, a high value site located in the southern part of the Argolida, there is a huge pile of snail shells dating from approximately 10.700 BC. of C., covered by other strata in which the bones of red deer predominate, and, almost four thousand years later, the remains of tunas.
In some ancient cultures, the cultivation of snails was a really important business. In ancient Rome, the ancestors of our Burgundy escargots were packed in brood boxes and fed with milk until they were larger than their shells. The result was a luxury specialty, available in limited quantities for gourmets and - according to Celso's medical treatise - for invalids.
So heliciculture seems to have been a practice in ancient times. In historical documents it is reflected that it was the Romans who started with cultivation techniques.
According to Pliny, it was Fulvius Hirpinus in Tarchemia, a city not far from Rome, where he established the first cochlearia or place of cultivation, in approximately 50 BC, and in which they fattened the snails with milk, bran and some wine , reaching a deserved importance. They were not only dedicated in the cochlear plants to the improvement of the native species of snails, but they also bred other species from Illyria, North Africa, Borealis, Capri and Liguria. Although some species of these snails are still appreciated, at present they do not reach, by far, the estimate they enjoyed among the Romans.
In Pompeii these farms were also established, next to Vesuvius, where archaeologists have discovered thousands of shells that demonstrate that the snail trade at that time was a good business.
Pliny was already talking about roasted snails, tasted with wine and served as entertainment for meals. In Roman Gaul they were taken together with fruit and cheese. Apicius has reviewed a recipe for roasted snails.
According to a recent investigation by the University of Cádiz, snails were part of the ingredients contained in Garum vessels (a sauce that was used as a condiment in ancient times and was highly appreciated) that have been found in the remains of a wreck from Roman times sunk on the Mediterranean coast. (It is the first review I read about this Garum preparation, but scholars will know why they say it).
In the Middle Ages snails were eaten frequently, one of the reasons "this meat did not break Lenten abstinence."
The snails fried with oil and onion were eaten, on skewers or boiled. In some European monasteries it was a regular dish.
Nola does not mention them, but there are several references to them in the ancient gastronomic bibliography, one of the first allusions being, at least up to what I know in Spanish publications, what appeared in the "Book of the Art of kitchen”Published in 1614 by Diego Granado giving detailed instructions on how to clean, purge, and preserve snails as well as how to prepare them fried and stewed (I have to comment on what Granado wrote, he copied it from the book published in 1570 by the master Bartolomeo Scappi, private cook of Pope Pius V), later cited by Salsete, both Montiño (1763), and Altimiras (1758), Remetería 1837 cite them in their publications and they also appear in the Manual de cuinar (1830), Novísimo dictionary Manual del arte de kitchen (1854), Modern Cook (1888) and the Practical Cook (1892). Leonardo Da Vinci in his notes on kitchen He gives some very curious instructions on how to serve the snails and a recipe for conch soup.
Already in the XNUMXth century, almost all the books published show recipes for snails.
Following the thread of heliciculture, at first the helicicultural activity was none other than the search in the field of snails, either for private consumption or to sell them.
Consumption increased greatly, especially in France, so by the sixties of the last century snail farms were already established, first precariously and now fully industrialized.