Monday, May 16, 2011
Invasion of the 13-Year Cicadas
According to local news sources, including Billy Touchberry’s photojournalism and Tom Ptak’s Facebook status posts, the enigmatic, ear-splitting, exoskeleton shedding 13-Year Cicadas are back once again, screeching like banshees throughout the arboreal landscape of Middle Georgia. As much as is being written about these periodic invaders, you’d think that there’s really nothing else going on around here worth writing about… Oh, that’s right. There isn’t.
If you happen to be a member of the 12-and-under set or are completely oblivious to entomological comings and goings, 13-year cicadas, just as their name implies, show up every 13 years to molt, mate and die, a process which takes approximately two months. (And you thought you had a crap life). This pinnacle of the cicada life-cycle is preceded by 12 and-three-quarters years of growing up underground, drinking tree root sap for every meal. The cicada student body president keeps a calendar which tells them when it’s time to make the upward odyssey to the earth’s surface. At this point, they form a single-file line heading straight for the trees in my neighborhood, which are nearly filled to capacity with other forms of insects.
Compared to other parts of Middle Georgia, Dublin receives only a conservative number of cicada visitors, an opportunity that our Chamber of Commerce should jump right on. However, during the pests' last visit, I was living in Milledgeville, which is to cicadas, what Panama City Beach is to spring breaking college freshmen. The darn things, millions of them, were EVERYWHERE. In trees. In my apartment. Even in my hair at one point. Apparently they’re attracted to Aussie styling products. Trying to do anything outdoors immediately became a game of “outrun-the-swarm.” Once, while cleaning my car’s interior, I got so annoyed with cicadas buzzing around my head that I began sucking them up in the vacuum hose. Each one made a satisfying “thunk" as it disappeared into my Eureka Boss. After taking in about 120, the vacuum lost suction. I wound up tossing it in the garbage when I realized I'd have to clean out the bodies for the thing to work again.
During the times when the cicadas were minding their business and staying out of my hair (literally), they made their presence known by producing the most raucously obnoxious, deafening mating call known to the human world. It’s the kind of noise that makes an Anthrax concert seem like children's story hour at the library and Suze Orman’s voice somewhat pleasant in comparison. Only the males make the screech, but apparently the females dig it, because a week or so later, millions of little “nymphs” are born and then burrow their way back underground to start the 13-year cycle all over again.
In doing a little cicada research, I was surprised to learn that they’re widely eaten in many other countries, and are even on the menus in Bangledesh and Laos McDonald’s. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, some people in the U.S. eat them too. No one I know, but probably some really distant relatives on my mother’s side (no, not you, Marcy). The Internet is literally stuffed with cicada recipes…one of them being… “stuffed cicadas.”
With the ailing economy and today’s ridiculous gas prices, it’s not a bad idea to make use of alternative protein sources, while they’re in season. I mean, heck, it’s only once every 13 years that you have the chance to eat cicadas (which get terribly offended if you call them locusts). As a semi-journalist, whatever, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a few popular recipes in case you do decide to collect a bushel and make something creative for your church’s covered dish supper.
Here are a few that received great reviews. (Keep in mind, these reviews came from people who eat insects…on purpose.)
2 pie pastries, slightly thawed
50 female cicadas
1 pint of cream
About 2 cups of stale bread or bread crumbs
1 tsp rhubarb flavor
Soak the cicadas, bread, cream and rhubarb flavor in a bowl until softened. Prepare the pie crust. Add the cicada mixture. Lattice the second pie crust over the cicada mixture. Cook at 350 degrees until golden brown (about 11 to 14 minutes).
--compliments of WLVT.com
1 onion, minced
2 tbsps fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
1 tbsp fresh gingerroot, minced
3/4 cup sliced carrots
3/4 cup chopped cauliflower and/or broccoli
1 can water chestnuts
3/4cup bean sprouts
3/4cup snow peas
40 blanched teneral cicadas
Capture cicadas at night as they emerge from the ground. Blanche for
1 minute in boiling water. They can now be stored in freezer or used
immediately in recipes. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable In a wok or other suitable pan,
oil. Add ingredients in the order listed above when those in the most recent addition are partially cooked. Serve over whole-grain rice and add soy sauce to taste
Yield 4 main course servings
1/2 cup Old Bay® Seasoning
2 tablespoons salt
4 quarts water
1 (12 fluid ounce) can beer (optional)
8 red potatoes, quartered
2 large sweet onions, cut in wedges
2 pounds lean smoked sausage, cut in 2-inch lengths
8 ears fresh corn, broken in half
4 pounds large cicadas
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. 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. Drain cooking liquid. Pour contents of pot into several large bowls, red picnic table. Sprinkle with shallow pails or mound on a paper-cove additional Old Bay if desired.
Yield 8 servings
Also, for a crunchy surprise, add cicadas to salads, use them as casserole toppings, serve them as a low-carb substitute for dinner rolls or as after school snacks for the kids.