I came to love escargot the way I came to love a lot of other things people are afraid to eat: I wasn't really given a choice in the first place. My tastebuds have been called everything from adventurous to insane, but the truth is that I'm driven by the desire to try anything I've never tried before. I've been trying for years to figure out why, and I think the way I learned to love escargot probably had something to do with it.
The short answer is that my paternal grandmother, Glenda, didn't give me any choice. This makes more sense if you know her, which would take too long to work out here, but let me give you just a little bit of color. Her size (petite, but not diminutive) is in inverse proportion to her unquestionably-granted authority upon everyone around her, which she never asks for, but seems to receive unfailingly. She speaks sweetly but with confidence and will teach you something every time you see her, whether you like it or not. At her retirement party, someone called her "Hurricane Glenda." She was demonstrably proud. Her hair is always perfect and she has engaged me in conversations about politics since I was old enough to spell "politics." She is affectionate, brilliant, interesting and one of my favorite people I've ever known, which is how I know she'll probably laugh when she reads this: she is also sometimes terrifying.
Bearing those things in mind, you'll understand that when I say, "she never gave me a choice," I don't mean that if I didn't try escargot I would go to bed without dessert. I don't mean that if I didn't try escargot I wouldn't get to watch cartoons before bed. I mean that when Glenda held out her tiny fork, after deftly prying loose what I had no idea at that moment was a snail and said, "try this," I (at six or seven?) didn't even realize I could say no. It also helped that I was already very interested in things cooked in butter and garlic, and was smart enough to recognize their smell.
It's what happened after I chewed and swallowed my first bite of escargot that always amazes me. Glenda asked, "Did you like that?" I nodded my head. "Do you want to know what it was?" I nodded my head. "It's called escargot in French. Do you know what that is?" I shook my head. "They're snails. Would you like another one?" I shook my head. "Are you sure?" she asked, as I continued to smell garlic and butter.
"I'll try one more," I said.
I have no idea whether my grandma Glenda remembers this or not. We were in a French restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with white tablecloths that served Escargots à la Bourguignonne, which, although I can't remember much else about it, seems like something an adult would definitely remember. I didn't realize it then, or really until very recently, but this was one of those moments where I realized that you can EAT EVERYTHING. It was an exciting discovery that's led to me trying to convince everyone to try things just once, and also to a lifelong obsession with dishes that serve a single purpose: escargot platters, deviled egg dishes, soft-boiled egg cups, etc.
I still love escargot, although I've never made them for myself. Now that I know how much work goes into cultivating the snails, cleaning them, simmering them, stuffing them and prying them from their shells with a tiny fork, it seems pretty selfless for Glenda to have shared two of them with some little weirdo who was mostly in it for the garlic and butter.
Get a lovely Escargots à la Bourguignonne recipe from Manger.
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