If you want to try traditional Cretan food, snails will be on the menu. When the weather’s cool and wet, they can be found everywhere. We saw them every day, not only on our eco-lettuce and cabbage: there’s usually a few, at any given time, that are crawling out of the compost bin or the fridge, while others are hibernating in dark corners of kitchen cabinets and in the nooks and crannys of furniture. They’re chilling on the apricot trees or relaxing on buckets at the stable. There’s even one under the ceiling of our room, on the second floor. We do mean everywhere.
It is said that thanks to the tradition of gathering, countless kinds of horta, or wild greens, and abundant snails, Cretans never starved, not even in times of war. And the local cuisine reflects this, too — it’s fabulously simple and based on seasonal produce from fields and mountains. A common thing are one-pot-dishes, in which the snails and horta don’t require many spices, while vegetable juices and the best olive oil substitute the sauce.
We began gathering snails at the end of winter, when they’re most abundant and have not yet gone into their summer sleep. They can also be picked in summer, when hibernating, but then the dry seal on the opening of each shell must be removed. The best spots for finding snails include the vine trunks, where they chill on the bark or hide in the grass surrounding the base, or on rusted iron, which they seem to like very much for one reason or another. We take the ones that are brown and large. One sweep around the garden nets us a couple of kilos. They go into a box filled with vine branches and pasta while the top getscovered with a breathable material. They will feed on the pasta for the next few days, so that their intestines will be clean. Then they’ll hide in the shells and go to sleep. Afterwards, they can be packed into net bags and stored for a long time.
The recipe our family favors is a super simple one: snails from the pan. A very similar one can be found here (with no flour).
First, turn on the heat, put a bit of flour on the pan and a hefty amount of salt. Add snails.
After a couple of minutes add olive oil, and fry for about 5 minutes while stirring.
The next step is the splash of home-made red wine vinegar and a twig of rosemary. And it’s ready!
I recommend them with country-style bread, first suck out the delicious juice and then pick the snails out of the shells using a fork. We’ve tried snails a few times before and weren’t thrilled, but this time they were really good!