Tomato Patch: 17-year buzz saws are also a gourmet treat

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 4:41 pm

By Greg Glassner

Editor Emeritus

I was finishing up a novel with a sci-fi flavor over coffee the other morning and became quite aware of the high-pitched, otherwordly buzz of the 17-year cicadas doing their mating ritual in the tall pines surrounding my humble retirement abode.

Between this odd weather, the cute, but creepy inchworms, and the cicadas doing their thing, this is shaping up into one of the stranger transitions from spring to summer in recent memory.

It seems like spring skipped us altogether. I switched the pilot light off on the heat and gave the air conditioner a trial run all on the same day. My parsimonious side prefers long bouts of moderate spring and fall temperatures with their low utility bills.

I had read that the cicadas were coming this year, of course.

Having covered too many NASCAR races during my days as a sportswriter, I figured that with my none-too-acute hearing and a slight case of tinnitus, I would barely notice the little red-eyed buzz saws in much the same way I now dismiss a cricket in the house as amusing, but non-intrusive.

Not so. These cicadas are annoying and I will be happy to see them vanish for another 17 years.

In an effort to refresh my cicada knowledge and determine how long they will be around these parts, I did a little surfing on the Internet.

One site predicted we will be hearing their whine until the end of July. But that seemed to be aimed at an audience in the northeastern corridor, so I hope they will depart Central Virginia before that.

I also learned that cicadas have zones, in much the same way we have time zones or zip codes, so intrepid travelers can escape them for a weekend of silence if they become too annoying.

The Brood II cicadas we are seeing and hearing spread from North Carolina to Connecticut. According to the maps, you can escape them by heading to the Chesapeake Bay shore or the Shenandoah Valley for your getaway.

The best thing to remember is that cicadas are relatively harmless, although they may do a little dining on tree leaves and plants while they are above ground. A few may mistake your limbs for tree bark and cling a bit.

But this is a two-way street. If you are a gourmet with an adventurous streak, you can harvest and eat cicadas. They were eaten in ancient Greece and are considered a food source in China, Malaysia, Burma and parts of Africa and South America.

Insects in general are nutritious and eyed as a food source in the future. Some are even processed and used in food coloring for products you may have in your pantry right now, in fact.

Still, I’m not sure I will be frying any cicadas in olive oil and ginger for dinner.

When I was in the Army in Thailand, I remember visiting an impoverished family in the boondocks with “John,” our Thai interpreter, who readily embraced western dress and customs and spoke English that was more correct than mine.

John informed me that we had been invited to dine with them. When I whispered to him that their meal appeared to consist of rice with ants in it, he replied, “That’s their protein.”

I asked him to thank them and decline in a diplomatic way.

For all I know, he told them that the uncouth Americans live on Snickers bars, canned Spam and Coca-Cola, which was not far from the truth.

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