Viennese Escargots – Gugumuck

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History

ORIGINS IN ANCIENT ROME

Dining on escargot experienced its first boom in ancient Rome. They were highly popular due to their supposed stimulating properties. Pliny the Edler (100 BCE) wrote about escargot and their preparation in his volume of natural history, and Marcus Gavius Apicius eternalized popular recipes and breeding tips in his book of Roman cookery written in the 4th or 5th century ADE.

A certain Fulvius Lippinus began refining the art of snail farming as early as the War of Pompeii. He raised different types of snails in separate stalls, feeding them with his own special feed dough. In around 750 ADE, Romans began farming snails in earnest. They sent collectors to gather snails in Liguria (northern Italy), and fattened them in special snail gardens which included cleansing and feeding pens. The escargots were then sold at specialty boutiques and eaten with special cutlery.

ROMANS BROUGHT SNAILS TO THE ALPS

With the expansion of the Roman Empire, eating escargots became widespread throughout Europe. This is evidenced by the excavation of Roman colonies, including the Roman city of Carnuntum, near Vienna. However, the breeding of vineyard snails in the Alpine region first became truly widespread with the rise of Christianity and the fasting rules the religion brought with it. For the church, snails were neither fish nor meat and were therefore permitted – and eaten in large amounts – during Lent in particular. Monks took up the old tradition of snail breeding in their monastery gardens, a practice that can still be found in parts of Italy today.

Today, vineyard snails are considered part of the culinary heritage of the Alps, with a geographic arc leading from the French Alps to Vienna.

From Dominik Flammer’s book Das kulinarische Erbe der Alpen

“BETTER A SNAIL, THAN NO MEAT AT ALL”

DELICIOUS FOOD FOR FASTING

Since time immemorial, Austrians have eaten more meat than in other places. Lent was therefore a tough test for those of faith. Creative interpretation of fasting rules was one way to get through it. Monks and religious leaders in particular, spoiled with culinary delights, were glad that escargots were permitted on fasting days. The tasty morsels added some welcome variety to the menu.

The escargots were transported in barrels from the Swabian Alb to Linz and Vienna. Starting in Ulm, the “Ulmer boats” shipped their cargo of snails down the length of the Danube. In Austria, there was an escargot center on Wallersee Lake in Salzburg, where a bustling trade in the delicacies took place.

Driven with poles down the Danube, the Ulmer boats were designed simply, up to 30 meters long, and included a shed structure to protect passengers and valuable cargo

VIENNA, AN ESCARGOT STRONGHOLD

Nowadays a little known fact, escargots were a widespread delicacy of Austrian cuisine well into the early 20th century. Escargots held a place of honor in many cookbooks and kitchens. Many of these old recipes still exist today.

Starting in the 18th century, Vienna was a veritable escargots stronghold. People discovered the stimulating effect of vineyard snails and eating escargot came back in style. With this fashionable trend also came a change in the perception of escargots as food for poor people and fasting. In Vienna, there was even a special snail market. It was located near what is today Jungferngasserl, behind St. Peter’s Church in the first district of Vienna. There, escargots were sold cooked and sugared, or fried in bacon and served with mulled cabbage. There was also a traditional escargot and ale inn right next door (1787).

An early representation of Viennese sellers hawking their wares. Johann Christian Brand finished this famous copper engraving in 1775

A SHORT FILM ON “VIENNA OYSTERS” (IN GERMAN)

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