Fourth-grade students at The Langley School in McLean got epicurious with cicadas last week as a part of their scientific learning about the insects. The students dined on chocolate-covered and sautéed Brood X cicadas as part of a greater lesson plan.
The idea was the brainchild of science teacher Ryan McKinney, who was himself introduced to the culinary delights of cicada eating 17 years ago while a student at Churchill Road Elementary School in McLean.
“I tried one then and was surprised at how good they are,” said McKinney. “Seventeen years ago, third grade, Mr. Stookey’s classroom. He was one of my favorite teachers. When the cicadas came out, he got a hold of recipes. I’ve never forgotten it,” said McKinney of his first experience eating cicadas.
Studying the cicadas and then eating them, says McKinney, was “something to get [students] out of their comfort zone and try something new.”
Parents did not have to give approval for the culinary experiment, but McKinney did check with the school nurse and administrators to make sure the lesson plan wouldn’t “bug” anyone.
He hopes eating cicadas will be ingrained in his students’ memories as it has been in his own. “This is something they will always remember,” said McKinney.
Out of 44 students, only five didn’t try the cicadas, and that was mainly due to fears about allergies, according to McKinney. Cicadas, he said, are closely related to shellfish, so anyone with a shellfish allergy abstained from the culinary treat.
FOURTH-GRADER MAGGIE THOMPSON said the cicadas tasted like chicken. “It felt weird at first, like whenever you try something new, but they were really good. They taste like fried chicken, but kind of gooey,” Maggie said.
“This is a great opportunity. They won’t come out again until we’re in college,” said Maggie.
Fellow fourth-grader McKenzie Klein added, “Before you put it in your mouth, you’re like, what am I doing! It’s a bug! You think, wow, wait. But then you eat it, and they’re good.”
Chocolate-covered cicadas, said McKenzie, “taste just like a crunch bar. I think everyone should try it.”
McKenzie said anyone who’s afraid of the cicadas should try eating one. “Now that I’ve eaten one, they seem pretty harmless to me,” she said.
McKinney used the week preceding the Cicada Cook-Off to teach students about the life cycles and benefits of cicadas. McKinney focuses on entomology in his classroom, so he was able to incorporate the Brood X cicadas into a learning opportunity.
“We did at least four days on the cicada and their life cycle, because a lot of the kids thought they were just passing through,” said McKinney. “They learned how this unique life cycle has evolved over time.”
Maggie Thompson said, “I feel bad for them because they only live for a couple of days and then they’re gone. We won’t see them again until I’m in college.”
Students and a handful of teachers collected cicada nymphs from the school grounds in preparation for the lunch special. The nymphs were then put onto a floral arrangement in the classroom, where students were able to watch as they shed their exoskeletons and began transforming into the adult cicadas that are so recognizable. The teneral cicadas, ones that have shed the exoskeleton and are white in color without the hardened bodies, are the most sought-after for cooking.
“THINK OF THEM LIKE soft-shelled crabs. They’ve molted, and the body isn’t hard yet,” said McKinney. “You catch those early in the morning and then put them in the refrigerator to slow down the hardening,” McKinney said.
Making the chocolate-covered cicadas was not without its perils, according to McKinney. “The hard-shelled ones you dry roast first. That’s the hardest part because the males make noise. Like a hissing sound when you do that,” said McKinney. Dry roasting was done out of the presence of the children.
The end result is worth it, according to students. They also had Maryland Cicadas, which are dry-roasted cicadas covered in Old Bay seasonings.
“This is the best tip - you can find the cicadas on the ground in the early morning. Take them in and put them on your house plants. They’ll come out in an hour, and then you can put them in the fridge. They only keep for a day, though,” said McKinney.
McKinney directs students and interested people to www.cicadamania.com as “the best resource” for cicada recipes and information. “It’s got everything about cicadas. It’s where I got the recipes for my class,” McKinney said.