I’ll feast on this Alabama delicacy, cicadas, every 13 years

Occasionally, a special meal warrants another indulgence.

The return of the 13-year cicadas to Alabama is a rare feast indeed. I had the pleasure of witnessing their presence and hearing their unique sounds back in 2011. If we can maintain the health of our environment, including our forests and ecosystems, we can look forward to experiencing their return once again in 2037.

As May progresses, the 2024 cicada phenomenon continues to escalate, with an increasing number of these insects emerging each day. Initially, their sound was intriguing, then eerie, and eventually it became otherworldly. Now, the constant whirr and buzz of the cicadas has become an omnipresent backdrop, resembling the very wheels of existence that keep the world in motion.

The box elders crawling with cicadas are being divebombed by birds. Abundant signs left by coyotes and racoons indicate that they consider these insects a delicacy. Even the field mice appear to be a bit plumper than usual.

I was determined to fully partake in this once-in-13-year feast myself, embracing the spirit of everything around me.

During a visit to our Paint Rock Forest Research Center in northeast Alabama, it became evident that Alabama is the epicenter for the 13-year locusts. While many maps neglected to mention the presence of periodic cicadas in the area, John and Kendra soon realized that the Paint Rock valley is teeming with three unique species of cicadas.

Ginger Bakers (M. tredecula?) are the third and least common type. They have gold striping on their mostly black bellies, and they produce a peculiar drumming sound with jazzy, off-beat rhythms.

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The appearance of millions (billions!) of these cicadas every 13 years has always inspired awe and hunger among Americans. It’s no surprise that cicadas have long been regarded as a sought-after delicacy, being consumed in Alabama for thousands of years before people relied on pre-packaged groceries.

Kendra, the expert chef, took charge of the magicicada dish. As my wife and I gathered wild-picked goosefoot greens and sugar snaps for the sides, Kendra skillfully prepared the marinade using onions, peppers, garlic, and a selection of aromatic spices. After removing the wings, she cooked the Black Barts, Ginger Bakers, and Mellow Yellows in a sizzling hot iron skillet with a touch of oil.

I now understand the reason behind the birds’ melodious songs. It is due to the delightful combination of flavors and textures found in this dish. The vibrant green color resembles that of asparagus or spinach, while the taste is reminiscent of earthy mushrooms with a hint of sweetness. The texture of the dish is perfectly crisp on the outside, while the inside is moist and resembles the texture of a hard-boiled egg. Kendra and I decided that for the 2037 batch, we might enhance the flavors by adding a touch of balsamic.

After consuming the protein and minerals, I feel energized and invigorated. It is widely supported by evidence that insects, such as cicadas, used to be a significant component of the human diet, surpassing the nutritional value of beef and chicken.

Bottling and commercializing a resource that is only available once every 13 years is undoubtedly a challenging task. However, the significance lies not in the feasibility of this endeavor, but rather in the reflection it evokes. The taste of cicadas serves as a poignant reminder of the abundant native resources that Alabama possesses, resources that often go unnoticed. If we are open to understanding and harnessing these resources, they have the potential to significantly impact our lives in unforeseen ways.

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