I am a man of simple tastes, and so I prefer my cicadas without fanfare -- lightly sauteed in butter and garlic, then served on a bed of romaine lettuce along with a glass of white wine, a loaf of French bread and a tossed salad.
Sometimes I may garnish the salad with ground cicada wings sprinkled with paprika and bacon bits, but that's it.
In my opinion, too many spices only serve to mask the delicate flavor that, like the finest of wines or cheeses, has been 17 years in the making.
I like to eat this superb but simple meal by myself. A book of poetry. Oscar Peterson on the stereo.
My family understands.
Besides, I make it up to them.
On weekends, cicadas become a family project.
The children gather them up in brightly colored cicada baskets (available in most of the better department stores) while my wife and I stand in the kitchen, crisping them in the oven, then applying brown sugar and cinnamon with a liberal hand.
Then, singing traditional cicada songs from Europe, Asia and Africa, the whole family works together to preserve and can them for those long, bitter nights this winter when a late night snack will come in handy.
Yes, at long last, the cicadas are back!
As these bite-sized Rip Van Winkles emerge, yawning, from their underground berths, I have been bombarded with calls for cicada recipes.
The reason of course is that they look so appetizing, with their gently ribbed café au lait shells, their gossamer wings, their warm, sincere, red eyes.
But confusion reigns.
Should cicadas be stewed? Pan-fried? Or served sushi-style?
Do they go best with a red or a white wine?
Are they properly offered as appetizers, the main course or as a dessert?
The answer to these questions, most gourmets agree, is all of the above.
With this versatile insect, anything goes.
They are an epicurean's delight, their unique, indescribable flavor heightened by the fact that they appear only once every 17 years.
Cicadas last appeared in the summer of 1970, but we were all too preoccupied to appreciate them fully.
In the summer of 1970, Richard Nixon presided over the country, with Spiro Agnew veeping at his side, while Marvin Mandel governed the state and Thomas J. D'Alesandro 3rd mayored the city.On Memorial Day 1970, the country still seethed from the protests and state-sanctioned violence that followed Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.
Amid the anti-war fevers and the pennant fevers, the cicadas crept forth quietly, apologetically; unnoticed and untasted by Marylanders until suddenly they were crunching underfoot.
Well, today you can get your fill of cicadas.
The possibilities are endless.
With potatoes, carrots and a hearty broth, cicadas make a delicious stew.
With a well-honed knife and the steady hand of a jewel cutter, you can slice off one or two excellent cicada steaks, USDA choice meat, fine for barbecues.
Or, you can dig deep for the big, 8-pound cicadas that most people rarely see.
Although seldom sighted, these turkey-sized cicadas are not as rare as you might think. It is generally understood that those who have the smaller variety in their yards can usually find the larger ones if they dig for them.
You'll find them well worth the effort: Braise with a fragrant orange sauce, (add a dash more brandy then usual), stuff with spinach and roast at about the same time and temperature you use for a similar-sized fowl.
The 17-year cycle of these four-winged, red-eyed insects makes for some embarrassing moments, however.
Last weekend, at a party, the hostess offered me a plate of cicada legs -- a favorite among dieters and a very chic hors d'oeuvre on the cocktail party circuit.
Unfortunately, I mistook this delicacy for a toothpick.
I was embarrassed.
The hostess was annoyed.
The other guests were amused.
You, be forewarned.
There is so much to remember about how to enjoy, to savor these delicious creatures, yet they will be here for such a short while.