Introduction: 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

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

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

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

Halloween Food Contest

Fourth Prize in the
Halloween Food Contest

Hunter-Gatherer Contest

Participated in the
Hunter-Gatherer Contest