The frogs come out in spring. When the sun warms the earth, the snow on the surrounding peaks melts away and the daffodils push through the thawing banks, they suddenly appear.
As the icy surface of the lake disappears, frog spawn appears in huge slimy balls at the edge of the water. Frogs in tens of thousands take over the lake, the surrounding banks, the road nearby and some even climb to the edges of the ski runs above. It is gruesome and thrilling to witness.
There are three restaurants on the north shore of Lake Montriond, near Morzine in the French Alps. I enter the first where I find the entrance is dimly lit and separated from the dining hall by a thick burgundy curtain.
“Bonsoir” comes the greeting from Madame. She is small and there is kindness in her creased face. She moves slowly to part the curtains, revealing a large room filled with round tables, candlelight and jolly laughter. The locals are celebrating and the wine is flowing.
“Grenouilles” she explains with a glint in her eyes, “fresh frogs’ legs”. Madame leads me to a small table by the enormous windows overlooking the lake, silent and black. “You will try the frogs” she orders and disappears into the kitchen.
I gaze around the restaurant. There are no tourists here. The locals are celebrating the arrival of the frogs and there are huge platters of legs piled high on every table. Butter drips from their fingers and little piles of bones collect on the sides of their plates. I feel a little sick.
Madame brings me a glass of wine and, seeing my bewildered face, decides to educate me in the process of frogs’ legs – lake to plate. She explains in a proud, no-nonsense manner that her husband and his friends collect the frogs. At four o’clock every morning during spring they descend on the lake, each armed with a flashlight, a net, a large canvas sac and knee-length boots. They fill their sacs with frogs and bring them back to the kitchen where she and her friends are waiting, each armed with a large pair of scissors, a large plate and a rubbish bin. They cut off the legs, discard the bodies and refrigerate the legs until just before service that evening. They crush and dice a huge volume of garlic and parsley. They dust the legs in flour, fry them briefly in butter, garlic and parsley, mound them on to huge platters and fill the bellies of the locals that come from miles around to celebrate with them.
When my platter of legs arrives I swallow hard. Madame is watching me from across the restaurant. I want to show her that I too can celebrate like the locals. I pick up the first pair of legs. There is no hiding what they are. They look exactly like a pair of frogs legs, warm and dripping with butter. Holding them by their feet I gingerly nibble at the thighs. They are soft, tender, juicy, like chicken but more delicate. The butter is rich and exquisite. I gulp greedily and reach for the second pair. They fall apart in my mouth and are so delicious I can hardly believe it!
The moon was rising over the lake and I watched it as I sat back in my chair. A pile of little bones filled my plate. The platter, mopped with crusty bread, was completely clean. A pile of buttery napkins sat crumpled next to my empty wine glass. Completely content I grinned across at Madame. She winked and laughed.
Bring on the snails!” I said.
Jenny Dods has traveled extensively and during her childhood lived in Canada, Australia, Sudan and Papua New Guinea. She now lives with her family in a small village in the French Alps where she loves to spend time cooking, skiing and writing her travel adventures.