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Halloween Slug Fest

"Now that we've finally had some rain, it's an ideal time to begin some early Halloween preparation. Whether you're planning a party for adults or kids, I have some sure-fire suggestions for treats, but you have to begin collecting the main ingredient now, while conditions are right. If the weather turns too frosty in the next week or so, it'll be much more difficult to find what you need.This year let's concentrate on something easy, tasty, nutritious and even environmentally sound for your Halloween party treats. Let's go on a slug hunt. It's not hard; many of us have only to go out into the garden to gather as many as needed.Before you start the Yuck, she must be kidding....., let me remind you that slugs are simply snails that gave up wearing that heavy shell eons ago, and I have no doubt that many of you have paid or would pay a pretty penny for a plate of gourmet escargot. Now, since we here in the Pacific Northwest enjoy an abundance of slugs, which we pay many dollars to eradicate with little success, why not kill two slugs with one salt shaker and use them instead of just abusing them? I have several excellent recipe suggestions, all suitable for Halloween treats, so let's talk about capturing and preparing your main ingredient.While there are probably about two dozen slug varieties native to our area, two or three of these are the most common and easiest to catch. You should be able to catch, with little or no trouble, at least two or three dozen Limax Maximus and/or Arion ater, both common garden slugs, just by taking a short walk in any nearby woods or even around your own yard, especially early in the morning while the grass is very dewy. Arion ater is a deep, almost black brown in color, rather large and bulky, with pronounced ridges and furrows in its slimy skin. At three to six inches, it's a bit large for some of the recipes, but still very useful.Another desirable slug for your Halloween goodies is Limax Maximus, also a bit large but more slender and possibly a bit more tender when cooked. Limax is a grayish brown, with spots on its mantle (the part just behind the eye stalks), and smoother skin. Limax, however, has a reputation for speed in the slug world (it can move about four inches a minute) and is a bit aggressive, so just be quick about grabbing him/her (they're hermaphrodites, so you never know which you're getting at any given time). Limax will probably try to put you off by letting off a big puddle of mucus as you pick it up, so you may want to wear your garden gloves while collecting. Should you be lucky enough to find two of these hanging together from a tree branch on a slimy string of mucus, you've caught them in the mating act and it'll be really easy to gather them up as they have their little slug minds on something else and won't resist. And finally, if you want tiny little slug delicacies, look for that little grayish bit of goo you so often find in your lettuce plants, Deroceras reticulatum, also known as milky slug, or just @#**&#* slug. At about an inch long, it's good for dips, chowder, perhaps a bowl of crispy fried tidbits.Once you've gathered up as many slugs as you think you'll need for your Halloween festivities, or for those special treats for the kids who come calling, you'll have to decide how you want to do them in. You've all heard about the salt shaker and slugs, but I happen to think that's a bit inhumane, as it takes too many minutes for your average slug to give up the ghost. Besides, it's not a pretty picture while it's happening. No, I recommend a much easier and more humane method. Dump all your slugs into a pan or bowl of beer, walk away and leave them alone for awhile, and when you return they'll be ready to use, having drowned happily in the suds. And you don't have to use designer beer; Budweiser is most suitable - in fact, that's all it's good for as far as I'm concerned.So, there you have it. Easily available in whatever quantity needed, affordable and environmentally sound; virtually free Halloween goodies for your party or the kiddies ringing your doorbell. And you can bet that, once word gets 'round, your Halloween treats will be the talk of your neighborhood.RecipesPreparation is important, so after you've done in your slugs in the beer, drain them in a colander (I recommend throwing out the Budweiser at this point, unless you're planning to serve it at the football game gathering that afternoon, in which case it should be about right for the occasion), then drop them into a solution of vinegar and water, about two to one. This will remove any slimy residue and marinate them just a bit. I suggest keeping them in this marinade until ready to use, refrigerating if necessary. When ready to use in any of the following recipes, first remove slugs from vinegar, rinse briefly under cold water and dry on paper towels.Batter Up1 cup flour1/2 t. baking powder1/4 t. salt (or to taste)1 large egg1/2 cup milk1 T. butter, melted12 medium to small fresh slugs, prepared as noted aboveVegetable oil, sufficient for deep fryingLemon, for garnish1. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add egg, milk and butter, stirring well.2. Dip each slug in the batter until generously coated, then fry in vegetable oil heated to 375 degrees, for approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Garnish with lemon slices and serve immediately.Note: Depending upon the size of the slug, cooking time may vary. Overcooking will make the slug tough, so test one with an instant thermometer - it should be read about 160 degrees, more if you prefer it well done.And sure to please the kids, try a big bowl of Popslug Crunch for trick or treaters:Popslug Crunch1/2 cup butter, melted1/2 cup honey3 quarts popcorn, popped1 cup dry roasted fresh small slugs, chopped (see instructions)1. First roast the slugs. Spread prepared (as in above basic preparation instructions) slugs on a cookie sheet sprayed with vegetable spray. Roast in a preheated 200 degree oven anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, or until slugs are dry and a bit crunchy. Allow to cool a bit, then chop finely.2. Blend butter and honey in a saucepan and heat gently. In a large bowl, mix the popcorn with the chopped slug and pour the butter-honey mixture over it. Mix well, then spread on a cookie sheet in a thin layer. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp. Break into small pieces; hand out when the doorbell rings.Another one for the kids, most of whom like corn dogs:Slug Dogs1 dozen or more medium to large fresh slugs, cleaned and prepared as in above instructions; for these, you could even go to Banana Slugs, the really big ones, should you be so inclined and have availability1 cup yellow corn meal1/2 cup flour1/4 t. salt1/4 t. soda1/8 t. paprika2 T. melted butter or vegetable oil1/3 cup milk1. Precook your slugs by dropping them into boiling water, lowering heat and simmering until just tender. (Time will depend upon size of slugs.) Remove from water and allow to dry on paper towels.2. Prepare batter: Combine all remaining ingredients, stirring well. Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Roll pieces of dough into balls, then flatten by rolling or patting between the palms of your hands. They should be quite thin. 3. Wrap each slug in one of the cornmeal dough circles, pressing it firmly around the slug and completely covering. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350 oven for 20-25 minutes or until cornmeal wrapper is browned and crisp. Remove from oven, insert pointed skewer stick in end of each slug dog and serve, with mustard and ketchup or plain.And don't forget, you can use chopped or ground slug as you would clams, in chowder, dip, fritters, etc. Or, buy a can of shells (available in most supermarkets), saute your slugs in garlic and butter, stuff them in the shells and serve escargot, the Pacific Northwest way. "

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