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M.A.:

In my garden, I have been experiencing extensive damage by snails. I have been able to curb the destruction by using the infamous beer trap that works for their cousin, the slug. My question, however, is: are the snails we have here edible? If so, can I break out my French cookbook and whip up a little escargot appetizer?

-- MB, Paradise Hills

Yes, please do, and bon appetit. In fact Helix aspera, our most common garden snail, is an illegal immigrant from France, not a true American pest. Brought to central California by some homesick Pierre, is the speculation. Like sweetbreads, frogs legs, the beret -- yet another indignity visited upon us by the French.

Anyway, H. aspera is the same booger-like item that a French menu calls petit gris escargot. There's a chance your snails have been around garden poisons or other toxins, so my team of lawyers requests that you please be careful when you gather them. So here's our recipe of the week. Collect your snails (the bigger ones are supposed to taste better); put them in a ventilated, covered bucket with cornmeal, lettuce (or herbs), and a dish of water. After a week, poke 'em to see which ones are dead. Throw those out and deslime the rest by soaking them for four hours in water with vinegar and salt. Rinse 'em; boil 'em for 15 minutes; deshell; sauté in butter, wine, garlic, whatever seems right. Grandma Alice also has a nifty recipe for earthwormburgers sent to her by the University of Wisconsin, once a hotbed of weird cuisine, apparently. Personally, I figure if I can't eat better than those Survivor pinheads, I'm shopping in the wrong store.

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