WHIDBEY RECIPES: Is there something buggin’ you?

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It may not seem like it right now, but one of these days the rains will cease and the days will warm.

And all over this land, all the creeping, crawling, slithering, buzzing, humming, stinging, burrowing creatures will come to life, going about their intense little lives in the short time allotted them.

And if we, top of the food chain, had any sense at all, we’d be cultivating the existence of these bottom-of-the-chain critters, turning them into profitable businesses.

There was a major meeting of some three dozen scientists from 15 countries last month, held in Thailand and given very little press coverage. The purpose of the conference was to address the problem of food shortages during droughts and other emergency situations, and to suggest that one of the solutions could be worms and bugs, insects of all kinds.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there are some 1,400 species of insects and worms currently on the menu in about 90 countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, from crickets to silk worms, grubs, grasshoppers, ants and water beetles. In Thailand, where the conference was held, there are several dozen restaurants regularly serving insects, including dung beetles (gag), and bug vendors are a normal sight at many outdoor markets.

In parts of Africa, where starvation is a fact of life, people rely on some 250 edible insects to get them through food shortages, eating everything from termites to grasshoppers.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a few enterprising African entrepreneurs have now turned cultivation and exportation of mopane worms into a multimillion dollar industry, shipping the worms to many European countries. Worms, it seems, are one of the easier species to “farm” in large, sustainable quantities.

There was agreement among the scientists at the “eat bugs” conference that insects could definitely be one answer to periods of severe food shortage, but how to supply the bugs in sufficient quantity is the hurdle to be overcome, especially here in America.

Our Western culture has yet to embrace bug eating in any form and it’s highly doubtful we’ll take to deep fried beetles even in times of emergency.

The challenge, say the experts, is the almost complete lack of any infrastructure to raise, transport and market bugs so that they can be used to supplement food that other agencies supply in times of emergency. As of now, a system of small businesses throughout the world, all devoted to raising insects for food, is what’s needed.

In other words, Record readers, this may be the business opportunity you’ve been waiting for, raising bugs for sale to other countries where they don’t mind ingesting worms, grubs, beetles and such.

Because most bugs are seasonal, with a very short life span, and furthermore don’t “keep” well, it wouldn’t be practical to market them live, but processing them into meal or powder that could be used to make cookies or cakes would turn them into a very nutritious addition to any diet. Most insects, especially caterpillars and grubs, are high in protein and minerals and it’s a shame not to find ways to put them to better use than just spraying or squashing them whenever they’re spotted in the garden.

It’s high time that we of the Western world get over our disdain for all things creepy and crawly and slithery and take a good hard look at the possibilities of supplementing the world’s food supplies through bug and/or worm farming.

Back in one of my other lives,

I was a well-paid copywriter creating marketing copy for products I won’t name here, a process not unlike spinning gold out of straw. When I think of what fun it could be creating marketing copy designed to sell worms, grubs, bugs and beetles to the world, it’s almost enough to bring me out of retirement.

So, who’ll be the first among us to show up at the Farmer’s Market when it opens soon, with “Farm Fresh Bugs, organically grown, guaranteed fresh?”

RECIPES

I have, in years past, given both instructions for care and cleaning as well as recipes for both insects and worms (usually for Halloween, I admit), but in the interests of promoting a healthier attitude about adding these creatures to our diet, I’ll repeat just a portion of those past columns, and in case you’re wondering, the instructions are real, not a joke.

Perhaps one of the easiest species to obtain is the common earthworm. They will need only to be lightly boiled before incorporating into recipes. Always rinse worms (as well as insects) you catch or buy, and in the case of crickets, it’s wise to put them in the refrigerator or freezer before rinsing, otherwise they will be too active.

After the worms are rinsed and patted dry (be sure to remove any that are not moving), you may boil them in water for about ten minutes (if you like them tender, not too well done), or you can spread them out on a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake in a 200-degree oven for about 1⁄2 hr. or until dried. The same procedures can be used for meal worms, or most worms.

To make worm flour, after the worms are well dried, using the oven method, put them in a blender or coffee grinder and grind until they are about the consistency of wheat germ. This “flour” can then be used in any recipe, added to soup, sprinkled on salad, etc.

These peanut butter cookies are delicious, but have a healthy addition of protein and minerals thanks to the addition of the worms, which kids, by the way, won’t even know are in there.

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

(With a mystery ingredient)

1⁄2 lb. (about 1 cup) earthworms

1 cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 t. vanilla

Rinse worms well. Cover with water and boil for 10 min. Drain. If the worms are rather large, chop in half or quarters.

Mix together all ingredients, making sure worms are fully incorporated. Roll dough into small balls and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press each ball lightly with a fork if you want the traditional cross-hatch markings on the cookies. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 15 min., or until lightly browned.

I’m not actually sure how vegetarians or vegans feel about killing worms for food, but if it’s not a problem, this is a good recipe for fried rice topped with protein rich meal worms.

FRIED RICE WITH CRUNCHY TOPPING

1 egg, beaten

1 t. vegetable oil

3⁄4 c. water

1⁄4 cup chopped onion

4 t. soy sauce

1/8 t. garlic powder (or use minced fresh garlic)

1 cup minute rice

1 cup cooked meal worms (see instructions above)

Chopped fresh cilantro

Scramble the egg in the oil, stirring to break up the egg into pieces. Add water, onion, soy sauce and garlic. Bring to a boil, stir in rice. Cover, remove from heat and allow rice to stand 5 min.

Serve rice with oven baked meal worms and chopped cilantro sprinkled over the top.

Note: There are a number of sites on the Internet from which you can order already prepared insects and worms. Using search engine of your choice, type in “insect recipes” and you’ll find not only recipes but a lot of edible insect information and sources.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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