Introduction: Earwig Chutney - a Grandmother's Confession

Picture of Earwig Chutney - a Grandmother's Confession

During the second world war my grand parent's island, Guernsey, was occupied by the Germans and cut off from all imported food supplies. After a few months people began to get very hungry, particularly during the Spring when home grown vegetables were scarce, and resorted to some desperate measures to stay alive. Some people stole food from the Germans and when they were caught they were sent to concentration camps, others grew their own food and hid it from the Germans who, themselves, would also try and steal it. Strangely, if the Germans were caught stealing they were shot.

My Grandmother would make soup from nettles, which was surprisingly nutritious, stews from rats and, secretly, she would make chutney with earwigs and cockroaches. In the last case she was not worried about being caught by the Germans, but more so by the other members of the family who would no doubt be horrified to learn what they were eating!

For the next four years my Grandmother became an expert earwig hunter and devised all sorts traps and techniques for finding the elusive creatures. After the Germans were defeated her own family was surprisingly healthy whilst her neighbours looked in a terrible state. Later in her life, just before she died and obviously plagued by guilt, she confessed to me her terrible crime. I could barely understand her frail whispery voice as she told me, slipping me a crumbled piece of paper in her cold thin hand. She was very surprised when I replied that it was now fashionable in London to eat insects and, holding her hand, we smiled at each other and she shed a small tear in the corner of her bloodshot eyes.


A recent UN report said that eating insects such as earwigs could help boost nutrition and reduce pollution. It notes than over 2 billion people worldwide already supplement their diet with insects each week. Additionally, insect farming, is "one of the many ways to address food and feed security"."Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint.". However "consumer disgust" remains a large barrier in many Western countries. Insects are nutritious, and have a high protein, fat and mineral content. They are "particularly important as a food supplement for undernourished children". Insects are also "extremely efficient" in converting feed into edible meat. Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein, according to the report. Also, most insects are are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than other livestock. The report suggests that the people could help in "raising the status of insects" by including them in new recipes and adding them to restaurant menus. It goes on to note that in some places, certain insects are considered delicacies. For example some caterpillars in southern Africa are seen as luxuries and command high prices. Insects could be the super food of the future.

Step 1: Hunting for Earwigs

Picture of Hunting for Earwigs

My Grandmother's hunting techniques were composed of three main strategies:

  1. Randomly finding the insects in boxes, under stones etc.
  2. Building earwig traps.
  3. Training the dog to find food.

Obviously, plans one and two were quite logical, but plan three depended very much on the efficiency of the dog in hunting both insects and rats. At one point, in a particularly desperate moment, the dog itself almost found itself in the cooking pot. I decided to have a go at all three strategies and give each one a rating. I found that strategy one was very time consuming and would only work if you were really starving. Strategy three was OK, but the dog kept on getting distracted by mice, which she just ate herself and would not share with me. So, in the end, the trap building became the main way to catch the earwigs.

There are many ways that my Grandmother used to trap earwigs, although cockroaches were bigger, more common and easier to catch by method one. A favourite would be to put out a bowl of bait liquid such as tomato soup with a lid on it with small holes allowing the insects to enter within. Another trap consisted of hollow stems of plants such as nettles and hogweed cut and tied together as in the photo. The stem trap would be laid in a dark, damp place outside for the insects to make their Autumn/fall homes in. During the four years of the German occupation, she became increasingly adept at catching insects until she could catch thousands of earwigs in a single day. All without the family noticing!
Hogweed sap will cause burns to your skin so only cut dry stems.

The common Earwig, Forficula auricularia, is nocturnal and feeds on a large variety of plants and other insects. It used to be believed that earwigs would crawl inside the human ear, lay eggs, which would hatch out to go on and eat your brains. Earwigs like to live in warm, damp and dark places like under pieces of cardboard and in old wooden boxes in the garden. Earwig trap that has results

Step 2: Processing the Earwigs

In my grandmother's time it was important to disguise the fact that there were wonderfully nutritious insects in her chutney so it is our own choice as to how to incorporate them in a modern day food. There's a few different options, depending on how 'hard core' you want to be. The most radical approach would be to use the earwigs whole, maybe giving them a quick toasting in a frying pan before adding them to the main pan just before bottling - this way they would be big and crunchy and really obvious. Alternatively, they could be finely chopped and added directly to the pan earlier in the cooking stage. If chopping is still not palatable enough, then the earwigs could be toasted, dried off, and the put in an electric grinder to be reduced to a powder. Personally, I went for option 2 as finely chopping the earwigs made them pretty difficult to spot in the rest of the ingredients.

Step 3: Making the Chutney

Picture of Making the Chutney

My Grandmother had quite limited ingredients available for making the chutney and struggled to get a nice spicy flavour. She made her own vinegar by allowing homemade wine to go stale in the open air and used grated horse radish root instead of chilli powder. The raisons would be home dried, not like the ones that I bought in the supermarket! Another small difference would be that she used sugar beet rather than beetroot, which would have made the chutney slightly sweeter.

Equipment and ingredients:

    My recipe

    Grandmother's recipe

    7.7 litre stainless steel pan
    2.5 kg fresh beetroot
    1 kg small onions
    1 kg green tomatoes
    2.8 litres vinegar
    1 kg dried raisons
    35 g hot chilli powder
    35 g ground black pepper
    100 g fresh ginger
    500 g earwigs

    7.7 litre stainless steel pan
    2.5 kg fresh sugar beet
    1 kg small onions
    1 kg green tomatoes
    2.8 litres vinegar
    1 kg dried raisons
    200g horse radish root
    200 g earwigs
    300 g cockroaches

Dice the beetroot and add to the pan with the vinegar, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Dice the onions and add them to the pan with the earwigs if you want to disguise their presence . Simmer for another 20 minutes and add the chopped tomatoes. Add the spices a little at a time until you get the right intensity of taste and boil for another 60 minutes, allowing some of the liquid to evaporate. When the consistency is reasonably thick, add the raisons, stir briefly, add toasted earwigs if you want a 'crunchy' effect and turn off the heat. The raisons will swell up and absorb liquid in the jar. Now ladle the hot chutney into jars, stirring the pan regularly to keep the consistency good. Seal the jars and allow to cool.

Step 4: Labelling

Picture of Labelling

Design a fancy label for your produce - or use mine!

Step 5: Tasting Session

ALWAYS invite some friends over to taste your produce - it's great fun for everybody and good to have some feedback, even if it's negative. If you want to keep your friends, make sure you tell them what's in the chutney before they eat it! Please video your own experiences and link to this recipe using facebook etc.

Step 6: More Reading


nerfrocketeer (author)2014-11-14

Woah! How did you add those graphs and text boxes?! Those are cool! Great 'Ible as well! Although for some reason I doubt I have the stomach for it. :) Good luck in the contest!

Hey thanks Nerf. The graphs were on my pooter screen and I just pressed the PrtScn button and pasted into windows paint program. This 'ible is supposed to show how the senses can fool us - and your stomach failed you!

Haha ok, thank you for the info!

rburgen (author)2014-12-16

The resourcefulness of your grandmother and the use of available forage is very commendable I would love to have a slice of toast with this chutney. Very fun Instructable.

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)rburgen2014-12-17

Well I think I've got about 50 jars left so if you are passing by this way I'm sure I could spare one of them.

liquidhandwash (author)2014-11-30

Great instructable, Not sure that I'm ready to eat earwigs, I guess im just not that hungry.

Thanks for your comment, Liquid. Sounds like you may need to do something to develop an appetite? A sensible suggestion would be to go for a nice long walk in your local mountains. A stupid suggestion would be to spend some time in a war zone etc. I promise you will be ready to eat earwigs after the latter!

ashleyjlong (author)2014-11-17

What an amazing story, and a truly different project! Every time I saw your Instructable thumbnail I assumed it was just jam or something with a faux gross label. Your grandmother was very resourceful and I'm glad your friends were good sports about trying the final product.

Hey thanks Ashley. In our family, it was always my granddad who told all the wartime stories - my grandmother always stayed pretty quiet about it. It turned out she had the best story of them all! My friends put up with quite a lot from me, they're currently getting roped in to taste my sugar free sloe gin recipe - the good, the bad and the ugly!

mygibzone (author)2014-11-12

WOW! I love this idea! I have an abundance of these pesky critters. I was trying to think how best to get ride of them, but never considered eating them. I will try this for sure!

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)mygibzone2014-11-12

This is really good news! Please be sure to post a message back here with a photo of your concoction.

buildandsewandstuff (author)2014-10-09

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a great book!

Yes, it seems to have good reviews and much of the book is about wartime food.

egladwell (author)2014-09-16

This is amazing, I would love to make this but my fear of earwigs (weirdly the only insects that really scare me) would mean I would need to get someone to hunt them out for me. Fingers crossed I will have a go. Thanks for sharing this brilliant recipe with such a gorgeous and rich story behind it. I have to say the amount of things my nan managed to make out of nearly nothing during the war was very admirable, how nice would it be to make up a recipe book of all these sorts of recipes.

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)egladwell2014-09-28

I'm afraid of earwigs too! Ironically, it's because of that fear that the earwigs end up getting a free pass. I'm too scared of them to kill them. I prefer to just look the other way and let them slink off into the dark.

I like your cookbook idea. It would be wonderful to preserve all of those memories. And it is something that people who have become accustomed to never doing without need to be reminded of.

egladwell (author)ThisIsMyNameOK2014-09-30

Haha same, I am such a whimp when it comes to earwigs mostly I just close my eyes and pretend they don't exist. I am sure there has to be a recipe book like this out there, but I have to say I have never come across anything like this before.

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)egladwell2014-09-30

Ah, but there is such a book already published:

The Food of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

egladwell (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2014-10-01

I have to read this, looks great. X

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)egladwell2014-10-01


Tecwyn Twmffat (author)egladwell2014-09-16

Thank you for your comment - I think you can buy crickets etc. online and use them instead if you don't want to hunt for earwigs. Good luck!

egladwell (author)Tecwyn Twmffat2014-09-25

That is a very good idea, I told my family (all avid chutney eaters) about it and they didn't seem that jazzed about it, so I plan on making some and doing a taste test, see if they notice, especially since your grandmother got away with it for so long :-) I feel mischevious!

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)egladwell2014-09-25

Excellent! We look forward to your confession on these pages!

animal lover (author)2014-09-29

I know eating insects is great for the environment, but EW!

How about snails?

Crickets and larvae arent that bad (if theyre covered in chocolate), but you'd have to pay me a lot of money if you wanted me to eat a nasty snail!

I mean, I've eaten crickets and larvae (chocolate covered of course), but you'd have to pay me a lot of money if you wanted me to eat a gross snail!

Exactly! Maybe just start with a single small crunchy cricket?

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2014-09-20

LOL!!! I love it. What a great story. This would also make a great fake-out food for a kids party (sans earwigs). We certainly have no shortage of the little critters around here. Wouldn't even have to go outside to hunt them right now. So it would solve the problem of how to exterminate them. And with meat prices being what they are today it would also solve the problem of how to stretch the meat a little further in some of my other recipes as well.

Well done! Definitely will be voting for this one.

Many thanks for the encouraging comments. Fake out food would be great for the kids and also educational to let them know they could eat insects if they wanted to.

I agree, it would be very educational. Personally, I would have to be starving. My brain knows it makes sense to use insects as a protein source, but my stomach doesn't quite agree.

My eldest nephew enjoyed eating live ants when he was a toddler, though he doesn't believe me. I had to stop him because they were crawling along the edge of our neighbours yard, who I knew used pesticides. Something you have to keep in mind when foraging.

It's amazing how the mind works - or not works - as the case may be. The reasonable part says "Yes, we really should eat insects", then the emotional part steps in and says "No way! It's disgusting!". If we were brought up in Thailand or parts of Africa they would just think it was normal to eat insects and actually quite pleasant.

Now apply this to a really important topic like global warming. It would seem reasonable to stop pumping so much CO2 into the atmosphere as 99% of scientists agree it's a real problem. But emotionally we have become dependant on a certain consumer orientated lifestyle which panics at the thought of change. 100 years ago nobody would have known the difference and if they could have seen into the future they would probably choose not to go there.

Couldn't agree more..... as I sit here with my iPad, Googling stuff to keep all those coal fired power plants spewing more CO2 into the atmosphere. Sometimes I feel guilty. Sometimes I think to myself "I really should stop using Google, maybe even stop using the Internet altogether....". But then, what would I do all day?

It's just like the alcoholic who keeps drinking even though he knows it's killing him, the smoker who keeps on smoking even after being diagnosed with lung cancer, or the obese food lover who keeps on eating because the pleasure of sampling the delicious food outweighs the desire to lose weight. We know what is right, we know what we need to do, but it's just so much easier to do what we want to do.

And I want to take a nap. So I think that's what I'll do.

I am definitely guilty of all those sins! I am a Sinner! I do try though and that's the main thing. At least with the Google Godnet we have somewhere to confess our sins.


Well, all we can do is try. No one is perfect and you can only do so much. As the saying goes: Everything will be alright in the end. So, if it is not alright, then it is not yet the end. :)

And without Google, I never would have found Instructables, and all the other cool sites I have learned stuff from in the past few years. All for the price of an Internet connection. Now if I can only find a way to put it all to good use.

Yes quite so. I myself chose to forsake all the luxuries of modern life, buy a small patch of land and live in an old static caravan. I think, although I have a lot less and am buffeted about like a boat at sea by the wind, my quality of life is much better. For example - I have become intimately familiar with the different sounds made by tawny owls, which would otherwise be missed. Not many people know that tawny owls purr like a pigeon.

Margaret van Velthuyzen (author)2014-09-16

Fabulous story and nice to a useable recipe about an usual protein source! Being veg, I shadn't try it out myself (although I do have a worm cookie recipe from my non-veg years) but hope that others do!

That would make an excellent entry for the contest. If it doesn't go to much against your current lifestyle to enter it.

Thanks for the thought! :) I cringe at frying up earthworms, but am glad to hear of others using alternate sources of protein.

A friend of mine used to eat them raw, but she was just 3 at the time!

Thanks Margaraet! It would be great to see your worm cookie recipe. Maybe enter it in the Halloween food competition?

That's a great idea! But the thought of killing things makes me woozy. Nice to hear of recipes using alternate sources of protein, though! And I loved the video you showed with the taste test!

onymph (author)2014-09-17

.... Number one fan (that is;)

onymph (author)2014-09-17

I think you 'Tecywn Twmfat' should write the 'Instructables' compilation of short stories for children to adults. Fantastic! I look forward to your next instalment. I could be your number fan.

karalalala (author)2014-09-17

Lately everytime I see something randomly on instructables and go "COOL!" it turns out to be made by you. Thanks! This is awesome.

Thanks Karalala. Random is my middle name!

MrFrancis (author)2014-09-17

Grandma gets the survivalist award. I recently had roasted salt and vinegar grasshoppers. The kids loved them. I'm definitely leaving some tall grass in my yard to catch me some protein snacks! Fry m up!

Tecwyn Twmffat (author)MrFrancis2014-09-17


alojzyhenryk (author)2014-09-16

Eewy, I follow

Thank you!

Teisha (author)2014-09-16

Such a great story. Thanks for sharing!

About This Instructable




Bio: Ugly pirate roaming the seas in search of Treasure.
More by Tecwyn Twmffat:☠Weedinator Part 1: Drive Mechanism☠Arduino Cell Phone 4G Signal Booster / Repeater Part 1Simple Manual Arduino 4 Axis Stepper Motor / 16 Channel LED Power Controller
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