Garden Snails can be a valuable source of wild protein, but getting them from the field into the dinner plate is no easy task. While garden snails roam throughout the Eastern U.S and in large parts of the West Coast, some common sense techniques would be required to make sure that this food is safe to consume. For me the following steps seems to work pretty well:
#1 Capturing the Snails
First, create a few areas of shade and dampness in the backyard. This can be done using cinder blocks, or piles of leafs/twigs and other organic debris. After a rainy night, turn over the pile and you'll find scores of snails hidden underneath. These animals are quite beautiful to look at. Their translucent shells spans the gamut of natural colors...from dull brown to spiral green and everything in between. An average snail hunt after a Spring rain storm might end up with anywhere from a handful to a couple of hundred snails.
#2 Snail Housing and Sanitation
Once the Snails are caught, proceed to place them into large clean glass jars with about a quarter inch of fresh tap water at the bottom. I prefer Mason Jars for this task. Make sure to leave plenty of air holes on the jar caps so that the Snails can breath. Place between 20-40 snails per jar depending on jar size. Once a day, the snails should be removed from each jar and gently washed with cold water, the jars themselves should also be washed to clean out any snail poop and food scraps. Any dead snails should be removed immediately, this prevents the remaining snails from getting sick. The Jars should be placed in a dark area, like a closet, or under some table cloth, or anywhere that is sufficiently dark for the snails to feel comfortable and begin feeding.
#3 Feeding the Herd
Kitchen Vegetable clippings should be dropped into each mason jar to feed the snails. Rotten Greens, apple cores, carrot and/or potato skins all work very well. Use common sense to judge how much to feed them. The cycle of feeding and jar cleaning should proceed for a minimum of 1 week and possibly up to 2 weeks.
#4 Harvesting the Herd
Initially after the capture, the snails will excrete black and/or brown excrement. As you put them under a regimen of daily washing and a diet of kitchen scraps, the snails will receive a cleansing purge of their stomachs, and their excrement will gradually become clearer and take on the color of the food that you feed them. Greens should result in clear or translucent green excrement, carrot skins should result in translucent orange excrement. It is important to not harvest the snails until this happens, it usually takes around a week for this purging to be complete, but some batches may require up to 2 weeks. When it's ready, proceed to harvest all the snails in the mason jar(s) and dump them all into a kettle of boiling water.
#5 Preparing the meat
Wild Snails should be cooked in boiling water(with salt added) for minimum 20 minutes to make certain that all parasites are killed. After this step, the snail meat can be safely used for food. It has a mild creamy texture that is highly reminiscent of shellfish. There is a wide variety of delectable food dishes that can be made with snail meat. My personal favorites are Escargot stuffed mushrooms and Escargot Garlic Sauce with Pasta.
#6 (Optionally) Domesticating the Herd
A few friends of mine prefer to keep a small number of wild snails and domesticate them. I've never tried this myself but from what I heard, it could be done using very little space and essentially their feed is our kitchen waste.
So there you have it, a plentiful, wild source of meat that anyone can catch and prepare for themselves in times of emergency.