If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em!
Remember that creepy feeling when you feel something land on the back of your neck?
About a decade ago, millions of cicadas swarmed the DMV terrifying some people, pestering others and soiling at least a few pairs of shoes as they crunched underfoot.
Well, they’re back.
Brood II – a cicada group that returns every 17 years — has begun climbing out of the ground between North Carolina and New York. In the dead of night when the temperature is just right, they emerge from the ground, climb into the trees and the males will emanate a pulsating sound that keeps suburban dwellers awake at night as they search for mates.
Entomologists say people have nothing to fear when it comes to cicadas: They don’t bite, they’re not poisonous, they don’t sting and they don’t stick around very long.
Within a few weeks, the cicadas will come and go, transforming from young nymphs into full-fledged adults, shedding their exoskeletons and revealing a white ghostlike creature. After the eggs are laid, millions of semi-translucent empty insect husks will litter the ground, memorializing the cicadas that were and will be again in 17 years.
Only spotty infestation expected here
D.C. and surrounding suburbs are expected to get only a spotty showing of the Brood II infestation, unlike Brood X’s full-fledged invasion in 2004. Still, parts of Maryland and Virginia can expect to be bathing in cicadas within weeks.
But while they’re here, why not make a meal or two with them. The white, soft-bodied cicada, having abandoned its crunchy skin, is supposed to be particularly delectable. Squirrels have been known to gorge on the protein-filled creatures. Presented with this unexpected smorgasbord, pets — dogs more than cats — will also overeat.
Most experts agree that cicadas are a rich source of protein with about the same amount per pound as red meat. Cicadas are also said to be full of vitamins and minerals, low in fat and have zero carbs. If you think about it, shrimp and crawfish are pretty much cicadas without wings. In fact, crawfish, lobster, crabs, shrimp and insects are all part of the same biological phylum of arthropods.
Some say cicadas are crispy and crunchy, with a nutty, almond-like, flavor. Iroquois indians have a long history of eating cicadas and considered them to be a delicacy.
The best time to eat cicadas is just after the nymphs break open their skin and before the exoskeleton hardens. They are best harvested in the cool of the morning when the insects are more sluggish. Experienced gatherers focus on the adult females, each of which can contain up to 600 nutritious eggs. Males tend to have hollow abdomens in order to help them make the cicada sound and are better as a crunchy snack, like popcorn.
They should be blanched (boiled for 4-5 minutes) soon after collection and before you eat them. Not only will this make their insides solidify a bit, but it will get rid of any soil bacteria that is living on or in them. You can then cook with them immediately or freeze them. Just be sure to remove all the hard parts, such as wings and legs before you use the adults. These parts will not harm you, but they are also not very tasty
Here are some cicada recipes from the University of Maryland. For more, click here.
½ cup Old Bay seasoning
2 tsp. salt
4 quarts water
1 (12 fluid ounce) can beer (optional)
8 red potatoes, quartered
2 large sweet onions, cut into wedges
2 lbs. lean smoked sausage, cut into 2-inch lengths
8 ears fresh corn, broken in half
4 lbs. large cicadas
1. In an 8-quart pot, bring Old Bay, salt, water and beer to a boil. Add potatoes and onions; cook over high heat for 8 minutes.
2. Add smoked sausage to potatoes and onions; continue to cook on high for 5 minutes. Add corn to pot; continue to boil for 7 minutes. Add cicadas, cook for 5 minutes.
3. Drain cooking liquid. Pour contents of pot into several large bowls, shallow pails or mound on a paper-covered picnic table. Sprinkle with additional Old Bay if desired.
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 12-ounce bag chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts
½ cup dry-roasted chopped cicadas
1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F.
2. In small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
3. In large bowl, combine butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla; beat until creamy. Beat in eggs.
4. Gradually add flour mixture and cicadas, mix well. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Drop by rounded measuring teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Approximately 3 dozen cookies
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.