The hot and dry conditions of the spring and summer of 1874 had provided ideal breeding conditions for the Rocky Mountain locusts. “The grasses seemed to wither, and the cattle bunched up near the creek and the well, and no air seemed to stir the leaves on the trees,” Kansas pioneer Susan Proffitt wrote. “All nature seemed still.” And then they came.
“They looked like a great, white glistening cloud, for their wings caught the sunshine on them and made them look like a cloud of white vapor,” one unsettled pioneer wrote. “It seemed as if we were in a big snowstorm,” recalled another, “where the air was filled with enormous-size flakes.”
In places the mass of insects blocked out the sun for as long as six hours. When the locusts did descend, they covered every shrub, plant and tree, sometimes breaking limbs with their combined weight. They flattened and devoured corn stalks and reaped fields of grain. They consumed only the most succulent bits of the wheat crop, letting the rest rot on the ground. “Wheat and grasshoppers could not grow on the same land,” one forlorn homesteader put it, “and the grasshoppers already had the first claim.” The locusts picked clean whole watermelon patches and stripped fruit trees, leaving peach pits dangling from empty branches.
Having ravaged the fields and trees, the locusts then invaded the farmers’ houses, clearing out barrels and cupboards and devouring anything not secreted away in wood or metal containers. They even shredded curtains and clothing. At night farm families had to shake bedding to dislodge grasshoppers before retiring and considered themselves lucky if another shaking was not needed before morning. “The air is literally alive with them,” a New York Times correspondent wrote from Kansas. “They beat against the houses, swarm in at the windows, cover the passing trains. They work as if sent to destroy.”
Enter Charles Valentine Riley. The Missouri state entomologist noted that livestock and wild animals happily ate the locusts and that man had used the insect as food since ancient times. Riley thus proposed “entomophagy”—simply put, eating the bugs—as a way to reduce their numbers while nourishing hungry settlers. The insects, he insisted, yielded an agreeable nutty flavor when one removed their legs and wings and fried their bodies in butter. He added that the rendered locusts also made a palatable soup. To prove his point, Riley sent a bushel of scalded locusts to one St. Louisan caterer, who insisted he would have them on his menu every day if he could get them.
Hard-pressed pioneers gave Riley’s recipes a try. Gourmands claimed that locust coated in butter, fried and seasoned with salt and pepper tasted just like crawfish. Others elected to add their crispy locusts to broths and stews. But a number of settlers who had watched the locusts destroy their farms said they would just as soon starve as eat those horrible creatures....
estherdragonbat wrote: »
I'm a kosher vegetarian, so that would be a "no". Unless it was a matter of life and death, of course.
sardelsa wrote: »
Yup I would try it. I'm not a fan of eating the insect itself due to the texture (feeling of the crunch and legs) but all ground up, ya why not.
midwesterner85 wrote: »
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