July 10, 2007

Hedgehogs, not just for breakfast anymore

So, I've just discovered something incredibly titillating in the Spanish lexicon. The word for sea urchin, erizo, is the same as the word for hedgehog, erizo!
Ok, so maybe titillating isn't exactly the right word, but isn't it fascinating that in an ocean of vocabulary so big that you could spend a lifetime swimming to the other shore, someone, somewhere and for who knows what reason, decided that these two creatures should in fact share the same name.
To be fair, I should start this loquacious bit of prattle with an apology to my friend Valen who, as we were walking along the road in Germany the other night and came upon a pair of hedgehogs, actually informed me that they were called erizos in Spanish, just like sea urchins. Considering that my complex animal terminology in Spanish is limited to things that can be served on a plate, I must confess that I scoffed at him for suggesting that this was their name. However, when I started doing research in order to prove that Valen had in fact no idea what he was talking about, I learned that, not only was he dead correct, but that hedgehogs were actually known as urchins in English as well (and still are in some places) until the term hedgehog was coined in the 15th century.
Ok, fine, both hedgehogs and sea urchins do share certain physical characteristics - and I was also surprised to find that both types of erizos are in fact eaten - and apparently on purpose. The consumption of sea urchins is quite common along the coast of Northern Spain. I tried them once in Asturias, still in their spiny homes and piled high on platters. To prepare the urchins, (or whore's eggs as they were called in 19th century Newfoundland), scissors are used to cut around the urchin's mouth on its flat side and the connective tissue inside the spiny shell is punctured and then the orange colored coral, or reproductive organs, are scooped out. I ate them raw, which is the most common way that they are eaten, and while the flavor was delicate, it was also overwhelmingly iodiney on the other. Despite the fact that I loved dipping my spoon ino the squishy center of the urchin, feeling both macho and cool, the flavor wasn't what I was looking for, although it seems that the extremely high iodine content in the sea urchins can be an effective cure for a neck ache.
While I have never eaten a hedgehog, I was able to find out (dear, beloved Wikipedia) that Hedgehogs were eaten in both Ancient Egypt and during the Middle ages. The most accepted method of preparation is to cover the hedgehog with clay and then bake it. When the clay is cracked open, its spikes are removed and voila, hedgehog a la pharaoh.
It is also interesting to note that neither one of these creatures is related to the porcupine or the sea cucumber, and that hedgehogs are naturally lactose intolerant.

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