This week’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, Water Conservation Program Specialist and Chef
Sharing an office space with a frog means I see my fair share of crickets. Phileap, the name bestowed upon our amphibious office mate, eats up to ten of these little hoppers every week. My personal experience with crickets led me to the realization that these insects are disgusting. Sure, I appreciate the comforting chirp of the male cricket on a warm evening. However, this soothing sound is quickly forgotten as I clean up their waste (they make a lot of it for such a tiny thing), chase the occasional escapees around the office, or remove their dead bodies and leg parts from the Cricket Keeper. While performing the cricket chores, I never once thought I’d like to eat one. But how fun it would be to feed them to others… But who?
Finally, the perfect occasion presented itself. Our water conservation ambassador, Little Lily, had been to visit several local classrooms to teach children to care for our water. Her yearlong visit was coming to an end and we were planning a going away party for Little Lily and the students. Why not make choco-chirp cookies for party food? The cookie would be a special party treat, the crickets tie in to frogs, and, if the cookies tasted terrible, the children would certainly gain a great appreciation for a glass of water. It was perfect!
But how do I make choco-chirp cookies? I needed a recipe. I contacted an expert, Dr. Marianne Shockley with the University of Georgia Entomology Department. She told me she had a “VERY SIMPLE” recipe. She purchases store-bought cookie dough, roasts the crickets until crunch, and then adds the crickets to top of the cookie dough before cooking. Simple?!?!? This recipe only brought up more questions. Where do you purchase crickets of food grade quality? How do I roast a cricket? Do I pop them into a baking dish and quickly put the lid on to keep them from hopping out? Do I wash them first? How does one determine “crunch”?
Dr. Shockley helped me through my mini-cricket crisis. Turns out if the cricket is good enough for frog consumption, it is good enough for human consumption. I purchased 325 crickets from our local pet store. This bag of crawling crickets went straight into the freezer at work. (People who share an office with me just love me.) For concerned animal lovers, inducing hypothermia is a humane way to prepare the crickets for the next step.
With the crickets subdued or no longer with us, I brought a pot of water to boil and added the bag of frozen crickets. I kept telling myself this is very similar to adding a bag of frozen shrimp to the water. To ensure sterilization, I let them boil for about five minutes, then poured them into a colander. I knew right then, looking at wet, bloated crickets, there was NO WAY I would taste a choco-chirp cookie.
Per Dr. Shockley’s instructions, I next spread the chirpers onto a baking sheet, sprayed them with some cooking oil, and sprinkled salt on for flavor. Yeah, the salt should help. The sheet of insects then went into the oven at 400 to bake “until they are crunchy.” As the crickets roasted, I tried to figure out what the strange smell was in my house. Did the dog pass gas? Was something rotting in my trash can? I determined it was the smell of crickets baking.
I used blind faith rather than a taste test to determine an hour in the oven would produce a cricket with the “extra crispy” status Dr. Shockley recommends. Then onto the next step: appendage removal. The crickets went into a brown bag and then shaken, not stirred. (The martini reference is intentional, as at this moment I wanted a drink.) I then poured the cricket bodies and legs back onto the baking sheet.
I scooped rounded teaspoons full of prepared cookie dough onto parchment paper. Easy, but how do I get the crickets on top. Tweezers would be nice, but I use the ones in my house for my eyebrows, not cricket transport. I knew I should just grow up and pick them up with my fingers, but I couldn’t get past the ewwww! factor. Instead I meticulously used a butter knife to push each cricket into a spoon and carefully placed the body onto the cookie. With crickets in place, the dough balls went into the oven to bake.
The chirp of the timer told me the cookies were done. I have to admit, the crickets blended in nicely with the chocolate chips, almost as if they still used their camouflage to avoid predators. However, the legs that were not separated from the body during the brown bag step gave many away. Would the kids at the going away party be put off by legs?
I presented the choco-chirp cookies to the students and received the desired response. Gross! Ewwww! Some were eager to try crickets; others were clearly going to have only the boring chocolate chip cookie we brought along for the less adventurous. Most of the brave kiddos couldn’t taste a difference between the two cookies.
There are a few things I am certain of from this choco-chirp cookie experience:
- the students will remember Little Lily visiting their classroom and the water conservation message she shared,
- they will remember the day they ate a cricket,
- and I will not be snacking on crickets in the near future.
Interested in the latest in cricket cuisine? Some think they are the next big thing!