No doubt you’ve heard about the magicicadas coming out of the ground this year. It fascinates me hearing all these news reports and blogs going on and on about cicadas emerging this year; is this the first time the media has heard of cicadas? Being from up north myself, I’ve lived with cicadas my entire life. I’ve seen them flying around, shedding their skin, buzzing around and making quite a lot of racket. But it seems that everyone is in a tizzy about the Brood II’s emergence from a 17-year sleep. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick list of things to know:
- Magicicadas are large insects that lay dormant in the ground for 13 or 17 years, feeding primarily off juice from tree roots and other plants.
- Magicicadas come out in late spring to early summer every year and live for a few weeks before laying their eggs and dying.
- Magicicadas are just one species of cicada. Other non-periodical species emerge every year all over the United States, Canada and the rest of the world.
- This year’s brood is the fifth largest brood and is concentrated on the East Coast.
- Cicadas are perfectly edible.
Yep, you heard me right, cicadas are perfectly edible. People all over the world dine on cicadas, including the Native Americans that lived here before the Europeans arrived. Cicadas have been named “the shrimp of the land” due to their taste, prevalence, and appearance. These delicious bugs live their lives underground sucking on roots and loading up on all kinds of nutrients that pass through the tree roots. Not only are they a decent meal, but they are extremely nutritious and give you large amounts of proteins and nutrients that are great in a survival situation (pound for pound, cicadas offer the same amount of protein as beef). If you’re on the East Coast, then this is prime time to sharpen your cicada eating skills and prepare for a SHTF situation. When a larger brood (such as this one) comes out of the ground, you can have a seemingly endless buffet of delicious and nutritious bugs to eat.
If you’re ready to try cicada, grab a paper sack and put some water on the boil! The first step you’ll need to take is finding a location to collect. Since they feed off of plant roots, you should avoid places that use pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. Though you may be alright consuming small amounts of these products, heavy consumption of pesticides has been linked to quite a few different diseases. You’ll be looking for teneral cicadas, which are freshly hatched adults have just shed their old nymph skin. Once you find a place out of the way of farms and road run-off, go out early in the morning, just as the sun is coming up. Cicadas usually emerge from the ground during the night, so the earlier the better. Look for the discarded carapaces of the cicadas, and follow the line of sight upward. Cicadas can’t fly until their exoskeleton and wings have dried and hardened, so they will climb up higher to hide from predators. The sooner you get them after hatching, the better. (If you come across one that has yet to molt, or is in the process of doing so, it is best to wait until it is finished before collecting it.) To harvest the cicada, simply just pick it up by the back and put it into your paper sack. Don’t worry, they aren’t poisonous and they very rarely ever bite. Collect as many as you can, but don’t stay out too long, the longer the cicadas are out, the more their carapace will dry, which makes for a crunchier dish. Once you have a bag full, you’ll want to take them home and carefully put them in the boiling water. (Take caution to not burn yourself or release all the cicadas in your kitchen—you won’t sleep for a few weeks if they escape.) Let them boil for a couple of minutes. This boiling will stiffen up the insides while keeping them soft and flavorful, while also killing any bacteria or fungus they got from the ground.
After you have your cicadas boiled, I usually run a little cool water over them (not cold) just to cool them down. When they are cool enough to touch, you can start pulling off the wings and legs. These parts have no meat in them and just add a bitter crunch to the meal. You can go ahead an eat them blanched as it, or get creative. I usually get four or five of them on a skewer with a couple of slices of onion and bell peppers, tap a little Old Bay seasoning on them, and roast them over the fire or grill for a few minutes until crispy. Prepared that way, the taste is reminiscent of crawfish or shrimp, and boy are they delicious. You can also freeze them at this point and they will keep for quite a while. (If you freeze them, they have a very different texture afterward; I suggest roasting them after they thaw out.) For all kinds of other ideas, here’s a popular cookbook devoted to cicada recipes.
Being able to live off the land is a valuable skill no matter what your situation. When you’re out all day working the fields or stalking dinner through the woods, a couple of fresh cicadas will give you the protein boost that you need to keep on keeping on. And if dinner doesn’t come easy, those cicadas might be your best bet for a decent meal, so you should start trying recipes today in preparation for the future.