(First published in Arcadia Magazine – March 2, 2015)
Thirty centuries have passed since ‘Paleo’, a Stone Age chef, cave painter and storyteller chronicled the earliest human foods. The following are interpretations of her paleoliths of the first known instance of Escargot in what is now the Ardèche, France:
Rivers poured from the sky that night. The light of suns splashed the sleeping trees, and the hooves of a thousand herds shook the ground. I and Mine flew on feet of wings to the Cave of Brown. We shook the rain from our backs. In that place, dry and warm, an excitement.
Snail are prepared. So fresh is the scent of the juices of their steaming. The flesh satisfies like Bison or Boar, and more. The preparation gives flavor more than pleasing.
Good that Brown has managed a steady supply of the Snail, outwitting the bird, hedgehog and pig that prize them as well.
Cooking requires a light touch. Just the time of five long counts at the Fire Place, a tent of flat stones with heated stones inside. On this the Snail are placed. Here they boil within their shells and surrender their souls in their own essence. Clove of garlic, and amber of the pine and juniper are added to the Fire for flavor.
Only the largest and most handsome are collected from the Wood. This husbandry ensures a steady supply. When the cool night air weeps with the morning sun, the Snail glide out from hiding to perch on stone or root and wave their heads in the light. They help themselves to be caught, like the Fish of the Stream. Harm or death do not visit those in this hunt.
They are served on wooden shells, two hands full to a guest, for one good pelt or a spearpoint. Cooking renders each to the eye as soft and pale as infant Moons. The flesh is retrieved with thin picks from the long bone of the Ibis. The picks are available for barter. Many guests count them prized possessions.
Something new. Einkorn bread is sliced, exposed to the fire and encrusted, or made to ‘toast’. Then, these slices are cut into pieces resembling arrow-tips. With these ‘toast points’, the Snail are served.
In life, the Snail are strong for their size. Once, having too many to serve, Brown enclosed them in a tent of flat stones. Overnight, a group had moved the top from this. At next light, the walls and roof of the Cave was decorated with the trails of the escaped treasures, hanging upside down, mocking their captors.
To peak the taste, the little Moons are kept for 10 days before cooking. They are fed for 7 of these of Browns’ own creation. The leaves of the Vine Grape are included. 3 days before cooking they rest on bed of straw and dried vine to dry their skins.
The Cave of Brown Stone is handsome. Paints on the walls honor the Gone Before, and the Animals of the Hunt. The glow of the tallow wicks warm and invite, and High Coals please with scents of the Forest. There was peace and safeness there, though most with us were not our Own.
Mine held me close and his eyes glowed from the warm fire as we awaited the Moons. His are the eyes of the man I knew my father was. We could still taste the berries we’d gathered that day. In the Valley the night before, Mine pried back the fingers from my fleshing axe, so tight I’d held that it cut into my hand. Wolves descended on our deer, yet we woke with the light of day and all but the deer. Or the father.
We have learned from the preparation of the Snail. A delight of new tastes has come from the herbs we enjoyed. This delight does more than sustain. It is more than taking Bison shank or Auroch rib. It is a means to savor. This is an eating that is a celebration of tastes more fantastic, and obliges an inner and outer want. It wakens the tongue and heart. These are new foods.
The night of this feast, Mine etches on a hide a vision for a Fire Place he will make his, and give to me. His interest in me thrills and soothes. I see him welcome my joy, he sees the mist on my eyes. He has said he cannot be without me, he takes his hands in mine. We share the exploration of that night and our lives in it, and those tastes of the Moons.
We stayed the night. At first light, Mine wove my hair, and I painted.
“Touch the Moons to my Lips
Run the Deer from my Dream
Spit Chalk to the Wall
Wash my Teeth in the Stream”
(Graphics by the Author)