African Tales – Eating what bugs you

December 30 – NOTE: This post may not be for the squeamish – chowing down on bugs is not what you’ll find in your normal everyday blog post. You have been warned! <g>

Fried locusts ready for eating

Fried locusts ready for eating

In Africa in which I grew up, some insects were considered edible. Not necessarily by the Europeans,  but the natives really enjoyed eating certain kinds of insects. Locusts were probably the favorite, and when the great swarms came upon the land, flying in sun-obscuring clouds above and settling on crops and wild vegetation by the millions, the villagers were out collecting all the locusts they could catch. The locusts ate their crops, and they ate the locusts. The locusts were dried in the sun and put into bags for future use, when famine might occur in view of the crops having been all eaten by the same locusts.

At one time there was a food shortage in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and on the mission station where my folks were stationed at the time, there was a problem in finding food for the students to eat. So the school authorities sent out buyers to the surrounding villages and bought up many bags of locusts. Locusts are biblically edible, so this was considered an acceptable solution to hunger.

Grasshoppers were also eaten by the Africans and my mother was surprised once to find our house maid busily cooking up a panful of them on the stove (for her own consumption, of course). There were large grasshoppers with beautiful green, blue, purple, and red wings, quite common and prolific. Their young could be seen clustered on bushes with toxic leaves, eating away happily and always staying close together until startled. They would dash away in all directions but in due time would reassemble and continue their dining together. Nobody ate these grasshoppers, for they smelled dreadful and would ooze nasty bubbles out of their joints, and doubtless were poisonous because of what they ate.

Certain large crickets were considered as food and collected when needed. They lived in burrows, one cricket per burrow, and would sit at the entrance singing very loudly. Cricket catchers had to sneak up very quietly and jab a blade down behind the cricket to prevent its dashing back into its burrow. These crickets had to be handled carefully too, for they had large, biting jaws.

Canned caterpillars on the shelf

Canned caterpillars on the shelf

A nasty source of insect protein came from large caterpillars that at a certain time of year were thick on the mopani trees. The African women would go out into the countryside and pick the caterpillars off of the leaves and strip out the innards by hand and retain the rather succulent outer portion. This was cooked and eaten. Canned Mopani caterpillars were, and probably still are, available commercially canned and can be bought in stores. Large flying termites were considered delicious, though a lot of work to prepare as the wings had to be removed and the termites themselves were fairly small.

One other insect was quite often eaten, but always unplanned. In the villages flies were everywhere, attracted by the cattle pens near the villages. The Africans allowed these flies to settle on their faces, unnoticed and unmolested. It was very wise to keep one’s mouth shut while in the villages, for at any moment a fly could fly in and be swallowed, and often were. Not a pleasant morsel, considering where those flies had been.

And now I think I’ll go have some breakfast. Cheers! – DALE

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