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Night of the Living Crickets
Spencer Pate

It is not an average day when a box with five hundred live crickets arrives at your doorstep.  Even stranger would be a day when you are not only very excited about receiving a box of crickets, but a day when you are planning to bake one hundred chocolate-chip cookies with the crickets in them.  But since I do not live an average life, all of this did indeed happen to me one frosty December day in eighth grade.  Perhaps I should explain . . .  

I had ordered five hundred, one-half inch crickets for my science fair project that year.  The purpose of my experiment was to instill people with an open mind toward entomophagy, or the eating of insects.  In case you didn’t know, insects are an excellent source of protein and are eaten regularly in many other countries.  To accomplish this goal, I had to make regular chocolate-chip cookies and “chocolate-chip chirpie (cricket) cookies” which people would sample and rate on a taste scale.  I hypothesized that seventy-five percent or greater of people will rate a chocolate-chip cookie baked with crickets within a margin of three points on a ten point scale of taste as compared to a regular chocolate-chip cookie.  I have long been interested in eating strange foods, and I even own a book with recipes involving insects.  So I thought: Why not?  It will certainly get me points for creativity.  My mom deserves a lot of credit for letting me do the experiment in the first place, since I doubt that many other mothers would be brave (or foolish) enough to allow it. 

It was way below freezing the day the box came; ironically, the box proclaimed in bold letters: “Live Crickets. Keep Warm.”  As soon as I got the box, I put it in the refrigerator until my dad got home so that he could help me with the baking process.  When we opened the box, we had no idea of what lay ahead of us.  We had expected the crickets to arrive in a smaller box within the package, but the crickets were right there in open egg cartons with a rotten potato and a heat pack that had gone cold.  As soon as the crickets were exposed to room temperature air, they started to jump around.  I had instructions that I found on the internet that told how to dry roast crickets, but I really had no idea what to do with the crickets in the meantime when they were threatening to jump out of the box and take up residence in the kitchen. 

As quickly as I could, I transferred the crickets to a lidded colander and shoved them in the freezer for fifteen minutes to slow down their metabolism.  After that time was up, the crickets were rinsed to purge them of any dirt or nasty bits that might be left.  The crickets had to be rigorously cleaned, or they might not be fit for human consumption.  However, the rinsing only made the crickets friskier.  Sticking the crickets in the freezer again only slowed them down a little; when I opened the colander, a few brave individuals tried to escape by jumping into the sink and onto the stove.  By the way, seeing a mass of five hundred crickets squirming in a colander is not a pretty sight.  My dad helped me throw the crickets on a cookie sheet and put them back in the freezer for fifteen more minutes.  Luckily, after this time the crickets were frozen to the cookie sheet, and we could proceed with the dry roasting.  I had expected this process to take only a few minutes, but it ended up taking forty-five minutes or until the crickets could be crushed with a spoon.  Finally, the “undead” crickets were dead.

I was up until midnight that night baking cricket cookies and normal chocolate-chip cookies, but the stars aligned in my favor and the next day was a snow day, so I could sleep in.  On the following day, I took some of the cookies to school while my dad took some to his work.  Volunteers couldn’t participate if they had allergies to shrimp, shellfish, dust, or chocolate, but there were a surprising amount of people who were willing to try the cookies.  It was hilarious seeing people’s reactions to eating the cricket cookies—the crickets were very visible in and on top of the cookie, with about 5 crickets per cookie.  Some people, like my grandma, were resolute in not sampling the cookies.  Others rather liked the cricket cookie, saying that it tasted rather nutty, but you could tell that some students were doing it only for the extra credit that my teacher gave them for participating.  My school principal even got into the act.  He commented that it was a rather surreal day when his first task of the morning had been to help a student remove her tongue from the frozen flagpole and now he was being asked to sample a cookie with crickets in it!  He was a good sport, though, and I even took a funny picture of him as he looked somewhat nauseated.   

The experiment was a topic of conversation at school and my dad’s workplace, so I got to enjoy the publicity and notoriety for days.  When I went to the science fair, I had two judges who were actually interested in my experiment and enjoyed my presentation on entomophagy.  I ended up receiving first place in the category of Behavioral and Social Sciences and a forty-five dollar check from the Rotary Club.  My science fair project in tenth grade was similar but had more of a focus on psychology; I made cookies with whole mealworms in them and cookies with the same number of ground up mealworms in them and had people rate them on a taste scale.  The catch was that I didn’t tell people that the latter cookies even contained mealworms.  But this experiment was dull compared to my project in eighth grade, since the mealworms weren’t as big or as visible as the crickets and didn’t put up a fight.  Nevertheless, I doubt that I will ever forget “the night of the living crickets,” and to this day there are people that I don’t even know who come up to me and say that they participated in the experiment.  The title of my project sums it up best: “Crickets - They’re Not Just for Fishing Anymore!”

Author’s Note: We never used that colander again. 


Spencer Pate is a high school junior from Hamilton, Ohio.  His abiding passions in life are reading fantasy books and writing, neither of which he gets much time for because of homework.  Nevertheless, Spencer still finds time to compete on the Academic Quiz Team at school, which is a perfect outlet for his massive knowledge of useless facts and trivia.  In fact, the most common rumors about Spencer are that he reads the encyclopedia for fun and that he was selected to go to college back in elementary school.  Neither of those are true, of course. Spencer hopes to attend Miami University and major in middle childhood education with an emphasis in math and science.  He plans to travel and write during his summers off.
AT notes: Spencer is an extraordinary human being.
Read his earlier essay in The Virtuous Medlar Circle,
A Rebirth of the Imagination

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"Night of the Living Crickets" copyright © February 2006 by Spencer Pate.
This essay appears here with thanks to Spencer Pate, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004 - 2006