Mountain Gardening

Though they are the most abundant protein source in the world, insects are an acquired taste, columnist Marilyn Quinn said — a taste she did not acquire on her trip to Mexico.

In any garden there are “good bugs” and “bad bugs.”

It’s a fact that the beneficial insects can help control the detrimental pests naturally. But until recently I’ve never thought of actually making a meal of any kind of insect. That changed on a flower-filled vacation to Oaxaca, Mexico, a couple of weeks ago when I went into a fine dining restaurant — white tablecloths and candles — that served, among other foods, authentic regional dishes.

Because I’ve written this gardening column for years and years, I am always on the lookout for new topics. Anyone’s planters or yards can be an inspiration for a column. So, of course, when I saw edible insects on the menu I couldn’t resist. Maybe the dish would be delicious. Certainly if nothing else it might be interesting to write about.

I ordered a tostada grande piled up with generous amounts of fried grasshoppers, ants and short, chubby (and thankfully cooked) worms. I’ve since learned that the grasshoppers, called chapulines, are prized in Mexico for their protein and flavor. Chapulines are gathered with large nets in specifically designated alfalfa fields by entire families.

Now on to the ants. Their large abdomens were filled with fat and added crunchy bits to my tostada. They definitely have more texture than taste. These big chicatana ants have been eaten for centuries, though recently high-end chefs have started cooking with them again. A surprise to me, but when I watch those myriad cooking shows on TV I’m always amazed at what might be in a recipe.

However, insects are the most abundant protein source on the planet. Indeed, some scientists think that the future of food is insects. Maybe we should we be rethinking our Thanksgiving menus.

I would have a tough time gathering enough grasshoppers or ants (forget the worms) in our high-altitude mountain climate to serve for dinner.

Although it can sometimes seem like a challenge to grow food crops here in Jackson Hole, in a way we are fortunate for our weather, which keeps plant diseases and detrimental insects at a manageable level. My garden in the Indian Paintbrush subdivision is relatively “bad bug” free. I have never even spied a grasshopper among my vegetables. I’m sure I won’t be tempted to eat wild bugs anyway.

To be truthful, the insectos must be an acquired taste because I found them to be terrible. They nearly made me gag, and I imagined that the legs were caught in my throat. I ate a few forkfuls and gave the rest away to an adventuresome eater at the next table, who didn’t seem to like them either.

Gardening guru Marilyn Quinn shares her green thumb knowledge monthly in the fall and winter. Contact her at columnists@jhnewsandguide.com. are

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