Crunchy crickets a birthday treat at agriculture fest

March 21, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

It isn't too often that you can go to a birthday party and be served crickets for lunch.

But at the state Department of Agriculture's 20th anniversary bash yesterday, you could sample sauteed insects along with leg of lamb, hot dogs and clam chowder.

"These are really good," said Bill Gimpel, chief of the plant protection section, as he stirred a pan full of butter- and herb-seasoned brown crickets from Louisiana. "You just bake them at 200 degrees. When they come out, most of the legs have fallen off."

Mr. Gimpel gobbled down the insects to prove that crickets with onions and crackers indeed make for a tasty treat.

Helen Sherman of Annapolis tried to get her two young sons to try the delicacy. But both 2-year-old Nathan and 4-year-old Jacob preferred the cracker instead.

Left with two crickets in her hand, Ms. Sherman popped them into her mouth.

"It wasn't too bad," she said. "But I have to say that I didn't bite down. There was this crunch, and I was hoping it was the cracker. But I think it was the cricket. It tasted like a sunflower seed."

A few minutes earlier, Robert L. Walker, the state secretary of agriculture, told an audience outside the department's Annapolis headquarters that some of the exhibits inside "will surprise you."

But he also said it was important for people to take advantage of the annual open house to see and understand what they pay for.

"I want people to come out and see what this department is doing for them," Mr. Walker said in an interview. "Many people don't understand what it is that we do."

The work the department does includes: seeking to eradicate disease in animals and control insect pests and weeds that threaten crops; promoting Maryland agriculture by helping farmers find new markets, especially overseas; and inspecting and weighing products.

Yesterday, hundreds of people crammed hallways and lab rooms. They learned the difference between deadly and friendly insects, and discovered their weight to the ounce in the weights and measures department.

The open house featured food and craft markets, marching bands, a 10-K foot race, wood-carving, an egg-inspection demonstration, a bee-sniffing dog used to detect diseased beehives, and displays of fertilizer.

"I think it's great," said Janice Abney of Annapolis, who brought her 5-year-old grandson, Cory Hickey.

Cory had just been to the "Seed Area" where he got wheat and soybean seeds. "I asked him if he knew what all this was," Ms. Abney said. "He said it was 'farm stuff.' Then he asked me if we would have to bring the seeds back.' "

Cory clutched an "Arthropod Amigo" certificate that announced he had petted a large cockroach.

Many of the uninitiated seemed about as apprehensive about petting the roach as they were about eating an insect.

"I used to live in an apartment in Prince George's County, and I don't want anything to do with a cockroach," said Sue Meyer, who now lives in Edgewater.

But Gaye Williams, an etymologist and the proprietor of the insect zoo, proudly held the 3-inch "hissing cockroach" from Madagascar.

"Isn't he cute?" she said.

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