Escargots anyone? Somerset has a taste for snails
TV chef, Phil Vickery has made an astonishing discovery – it's not just the French who like to eat snails. He's found out that eating snails was also popular in Somerset in the Sixties.
But is there still an appetite for munching on a mollusc today? BBC Inside Out West (Wednesday 24 October, 7.30pm, BBC One) invited Phil Vickery to put his discovery to the test.
Records of snail eating in Somerset date back more than a hundred years. In fact, there are even stories of the Romans eating them here. But it was Paul Leyton, a former rocket engineer, who popularised them in the Sixties.
His restaurant received widespread coverage from newspaper food writers eager to try the Somerset delicacy, including a young Delia Smith. In fact Leyton's dish of Mendip Wallfish became so popular that he tried freezing and canning it.
Former restaurateur Bob Reynolds used to cook about 4,000 snails a year at the Miners' Arms in Priddy. But when the restaurant closed down eight years ago, the dish disappeared from the dinner table with it.
Unlike the French recipe for snails, there is no garlic in the Somerset version. The butter is flavoured only with herbs and seasoning.
Inside Out West assembled a tasting panel of experts from local restaurants to find out if people still have the stomach for snails. All of the panel pride themselves on serving local food in their restaurants but none of them had ever tried Mendip Wallfish.
Elisha Carter from the Charlton House Hotel in Shepton Mallet, Annabel Hackney from the Bank House Café in Axbridge and Ian Bates from The Old Spot in Wells all agreed the recipe is delicious and a big success. But will they commit to putting snails back on the menu?
Ian Bates says: "Yes, I will. I'll put them on like this – the Somerset version of escargots. It'll be good. I think they'll sell very well."
So perhaps there is hope that the tradition for Mendip Wallfish will survive into the 21st century.
Inside Out West can be seen tonight (Wednesday 24 October) at 7.30pm on BBC One in the west England region. It is also available on digital satellite channel 986 and via bbc.co.uk/insideout.
Notes to Editors
The recipe for Mendip Wallfish will be available at: bbc.co.uk/somerset.
Pictures from the programme are available.
BBC Bristol Press Office