Mendip wallfis

The delights of Mendip Wallfish

I am blessed that the local village school is a mere 10 minute walk from my front door. This small but perfect establishment is where my mini blonde spends his days learning how to grow vegetables in the class garden, sloshing about in his welly boots at break time and craving the attention of the horribly pretty Rosie.

Most mornings we have a fine old time on the walk to and from school spotting birds,  toads and worms and jumping around in puddles – typical 4 year old boy stuff.   He asked me recently if he could bring a Tupperware box with him to catch a worm in so he could give it to the beautiful & fragrant Rosie (“she smells of Frubes Mummy”).  Of course I obliged and was more than a little cross  when she appeared as fascinated as he was – I thought this was a sure fire way to frighten her off and all of the other cuties in the vicinity. This little one however, is made of stronger stuff and for that I salute her.

Worms and other yucky garden creatures get me magically to snails.  I’d always thought these delicacies to be the domain of the French until I read about the Mendip Wallfish which as you’ve rightly guessed is the local name for snails.  Records of snail eating in Somerset stretch back as far as Roman times but this dish was popularised in the 1960’s by the chef Paul Leyton.  It was later taken up by the team at  the Miner’s Arms in Priddy who were serving a whopping 4,000 snail dishes a year in the late 1990’s.

Since then the dish has rather fallen out of vogue once more but in my quest to serve local dishes here at Castle Farm I’ve been trying them out and they are truly tasty-delicious.

Unlike the French, we in Somerset don’t believe in obliterating the taste of the snails with half a ton of garlic (obviously due to the superiority of our catch!) instead we used herb butter to bring out the flavours of this land locked mollusc.

Here’s the recipe for the Wallfish as served at the Miner’s Arms.  I’ve used a can of  French snails here for convenience (oh the shame) but you can prepare them yourselves if you want the 100% Somerset experience (follow the link at the end of the article).  It’s easy to do but you need to be well prepared as the purging takes a good few days.

Ingredients to serve 4 people:

  • 1 can of prepared snails
  • Snail shells to serve
  •  325g butter
  • 1 tbsp fresh chervil, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Method

  • Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees C
  • Mash all of the herbs and seasoning together in the butter
  • Push a good dollop of herby butter into each snail shell
  • Push a snail into each shell
  • Put the shells into a baking dish making sure the open ends point skyward.
  • Bake for 12 minutes until the butter is well and truly bubbling
  • Allow the shells to cool for about a minute before serving.

I love this served with a great home-made onion bread that allows me to soak up all the delicious herby and gloopy butter at the end.  Simple but wonderful and a great Somerset food.  Enjoy!

For further information on how to purge your own snails go here

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