For the birds

I am talking about crickets. I was startled to hear my doctor tell me he dined on a cricket taco while attending a medical meeting in Mexico. Now, I had actually heard of chocolate-covered crickets. I thought of them as a novelty much like chocolate-covered ants. It turns out these critters have hit the mainstream while I was not paying attention. Well, at least the Mexican mainstream. I have not seen them listed on any menu around here.

I suppose the first step, once you get over the idea of chowing down on crickets, is to get some. They are not typically, at least intentionally, found in the local grocery store. Demand may have something to do with it.

The canned ones I discovered on the Internet were highly rated by the one person who ordered them (for her hedgehog, it turned out.) Another source is your local pet food store.

In addition to tacos, there are the irresistible chocolate chirp (yes, chirp) cookies. And while the consumption of insects strikes most of us as somewhat revolting, the truth is they are part of our diets anyway. The tiny specs in flour that wind up in our baking are nothing more than insects that make their way into the food chain.

Crickets are prized for their voices in China. In the U.S., a chirping cricket in the basement is deemed an annoyance. For the Chinese, a cricket singing in the home is a sign of good luck and potential wealth. The more crickets invade a family's residence, the wealthier that family will become. So cherished are these insect songsters that they are often housed in beautiful cages made of bamboo, and displayed in the home.

Once several years ago our grandsons were visiting us in our old log house on an island in Canada. I was given the assignment to rise early and keep watch over things since my daughter had a conference call coming in and needed to be on the other side of the island where her cell phone would work. First thing you know, Paddy, the middle one, emerged from his slumber and stated he couldn't sleep. When I inquired about the reason, he mentioned the crickets were keeping him awake. I reassured him and he went back to bed and did not emerge for some hours. By Chinese fable, I will someday be rich as Croesus. I'll keep waiting. It hasn't happened just yet.

Chinese farmers have relied on crickets to signal the start of the planting season § and celebrated the crickets with poems, fables, and paintings.

Crickets can also serve as meteorologists. My mother-in-law told me a long time ago if you were to count six weeks from the time you first heard the fall crickets, you would have the exact time of the first frost. That information is probably more useful to some persons than others. For me, the whole notion of frost at that time of year is a little on the depressing side.

I haven't found that perfect Cricket Taco recipe yet and I am not holding my breath. But I have found an interesting one for Chocolate Chirp Cookies.

Chocolate Chirp Cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup oats

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup cricket flour

Cream butter well, then mix in sugar, egg, vanilla flour, salt, baking soda, chocolate chips, oats, and cricket flour. Drop batter by the teaspoonful on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This recipe doesn't have much in the way of palpable insect content, but is an excellent way to introduce others (or yourself!) to entomophagy. Check that out in your Funk and Wagnall's. Even many rather squeamish people will try cricket cookies, since the cookie format doesn't look "gross" to most people, and since it is rather difficult to actually taste the crickets, though they enrich the cookie with a somewhat nutty flavor and extra protein.

To make insect flour:

Spread 3/4 cup of cleaned insects out on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Set your oven 200 degrees and dry insects for approximately 1-3 hours. When the insects are done, they should be fairly brittle and crush easily. Take your dried insects and put them into a blender or coffee grinder, and grind them till they are about consistency of wheat germ. Use in practically any recipe! Try sprinkling insect flour in soups, your favorite bread recipe, on a boat, with a goat, you name it.

It's ok. My doctor said so.

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Judge John Kirkendall is a retired Washtenaw County Probate judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He can be reached at Judgejnk@yahoo.com.

Published: Mon, Mar 8, 2010