Considered a tasty tidbit since the late Neolithic, your average garden-variety Gastropod (helix aspersa) has slithered significantly across the path of human history. The first written recipe for snails appeared in France around 1390, in a guidebook on etiquette for young brides entitled Le Menagier de Paris. But it wasn’t until the 16th century, when the Catholic Church classified snails (along with frogs and turtles) as “fish”, allowing them to be eaten on meatless days, that snails began to show up on French aristocratic tables.
During the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe snail-popularity shriveled. Only when Alsatians re-introduced them to diners on the menus of early 19th century brasseries did they once again regain celebrity culinary status.
If you live in the United States, the snails gorging on your garden today are of early 19th century European origin. Their forebears were imported by French gastronomes who nourished hope that Americans would soon be serving these tasty terrestrial mollusks in grand style. Sadly, when demand for escargot never materialized, the slow-moving self-housed horedes of helix aspersa were put out to pasture.
Interestingly, there was a brief “Snail Boom” in Northern California in fin de siecle San Francisco when Bay Area chefs arriving from Europe began offering well-heeled diners cultural affirmation through old-world francophilic menus. As a result, a small cottage industry of snail-ranching arose that actually saw revenues slide all the way up to the $300 million mark. But when the Dot-com boom went bust, so did the budding demand for gastronomical garden gastropods. Today, California snails once again reside in the pleasant twilight of complete culinary disregard.