NEW YORK (Reuters) - A discerning guest at a Manhattan cocktail party removed a scorpion from its bed of cheese on an endive leaf and popped it in his mouth, determined to savour the taste unadulterated.
"Nutty, sweet," was the verdict of Gourmet magazine food editor Ian Knauer at the recent soiree.
"That's an antenna," he added, pointing to a morsel of cricket left poking through lips of his companion at the Explorers Club in New York, which likes to entertain its well-traveled members with exotic culinary adventures.
Founded in 1904, the exclusive international club has some 3,000 members around the world including Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, astronaut John Glenn and paleontologist Richard Leakey.
On the menu at a reception for some lesser mortals in June were worms, crickets, scorpions, ants and pigeon pate.
"We're so fast to make fun or make comments about the way someone talks or the way someone walks, and food is like the last bastion," said Gene Rurka, the Explorers Club's exotic foods expert. "But someone today is living off this."
"I guarantee you people in Africa who haven't had rain for seven years would love to see an insect," he said.Rurka, a biologist who has studied coral reefs in the Virgin Islands, devotes much thought to devising dishes for the Explorers Club's annual dinner in March where guests feast on tarantulas, maggots and exotic parts of various livestock such as eyeballs, testicles and penises.
TEXAS ANTS AND MAGGOTS
Large ants from Texas are served with blackcurrants in a sweet mini-tart, while he likes to serve the maggots stuffed in mushrooms. "They're delicious," Rurka said. "I was going to say like a tasty rice grain, but soft. It's not chewy like that."
He has experimented with worms and decided the best option is to disguise them as a pretzel, tying them in a knot like the salty dough snack, and to serve them with mustard. First they have to be fed on oatmeal for 10 days to cleanse the system, and he does not recommend taking worms from just anywhere.
"You don't want them raised in a dump site, you don't want them raised in manure," he said.
Earlier Richard Wiese, president emeritus of the Explorers Club, led several dozen people through Central Park for a foraging hike to find edible plants in the heart of New York.
Among the findings were wood sorrel -- a heart shaped leaf that tastes a little like sour apples -- dandelions, violet leaves and burdock, as well as pods from a Kentucky coffee tree from which he had brewed a batch of coffee for the party.
"It's naturally decaffeinated," Wiese said. "It's kind of fun to go into Central Park and make your own coffee."
Rurka sources the more exotic ingredients such as spiders and scorpions from farms in Texas and Nevada where they are raised as pets or to feed animals.At $30 each, the scorpions make a costly canape.