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Snail cultivation is a branch of agriculture known since Roman times. The Roman loved the tasty snails, had picked them up in Liguria and fattened in snail gardens, until they could be prepared as food. The Roman Empire's area of influence increasing and so did the distribution of snails and snail recipes until the furthest regions of Europe and the Mediterranean. Snails shells often are found in ancient kitchen waste heaps that are excavated around former Roman settlements.

That should not lead to the assumption that the consumption of snails had not a much older history. Today it is though that the common brown garden snail had already known in Celtic times. Greeks, Phoenicians and other pre-Roman cultures in the Mediterranean have certainly already consumed snails and other mollusks. Sea food in general, but also terrestrial snails, are until today a constant part of Mediterranean cuisine.

And in the Middle Ages snails have got the crucial advantage to be neither fish nor meat, so they could be eaten during the time of Lent. Consequently most monasteries also had a snail garden, where the monks could keep the tasty snails, to eat them with a hump of beer. At that time, though, the monks were not the only people to eat snails. Snails as well were food for the poor. Snails were for free, they could be picked in nature, and they were (and are today) very nutritive.

In addition to own consumption trade soon was another option. Together with trade, of course, also came cultivation. Where for own consumption it was sufficient to pick up the snails, keep them in snail gardens and then eat them, but for a successful trade, snails had to be fatter, tastier and better than all others. From that time came also the idea to feed the snails with a diet of special herbs that gave them an especially fine taste.

There was also a place in that time's medicine for snails. It was well known, that a cure against cough and other breast problems could be produced from snails, as well as a remedy against consumption.

The success of Northern European snail merchants speaks volumes: On the waterway the snails were transported for example by special transport boats to Vienna. There the snails were sold on the markets. There was a roaring trade with in Vienna until well into the 18th century. Later the main target of snail trade moved towards Paris, where snails could be transported overland. Even in 1908 the village of Guttenstein alone sold 4 millions of snails to Paris.

While lid snails accompanied Napoleon's columns on their campaigns as natural conserves, the coming up of modern conservation techniques at the beginning of the 20th century put an end to the Northern European snail trade. Today snails are mostly imported from Eastern Europe or even from Africa and Asia.

Snails today are though to be an haute cuisine delicacy. Peasant recipes are today forgotten. A proverb tells, though, that a man was especially capable in the bedchamber, provided he had eaten snails before.

But even today there is a future for the snail trade. In France snails never lost their role as a meal for everyone. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria snails win back a certain importance. Rural restaurants, but also one or the other star chef rediscovered historical recipes or invented their own, like for example "snails marinated with shrimps on rocket and baked tomatoes".




Statue of a Snail Trader
- Picture: Weichtiere.at -




Model of a Historic Snail Garden
- Picture: Weichtiere.at -


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