The Pleasures of Home – A Summer Crab Feast (she said)6 Aug 2012
Due to our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, we Washingtonians enjoy a great summertime tradition — feasting on Maryland Blue Crab. Picking the meat from these crabs requires substantial effort, a feat best approached unhurried, with friends, while sitting out in the summer night.
Soon after we arrived home from France, a friend — ‘The Minister of Leisure’ — invites us to his home on the Chesapeake Bay for a crab feast with his family and his neighbors (all old friends of ours). For several days prior to the feast, he deploys the two crab traps per pier allowed a waterfront household during crabbing season. He lures crabs with rotting fish and chicken carcasses, checking his traps multiple times per day and releasing the smaller crabs and all females back into the water. He then transfers the keepers to a ‘live box’ where they feast on more bits of dead flesh and, as often as not, each other. Crabs generally dislike one another and avoid sharing space. In the few hours between the afternoon catch and dinner, we loose two crabs to their compatriots.
The Minister of Leisure fires up a huge outdoor cooking pot (normally used for frying whole turkeys) filled with his crab boil recipe containing beer, apple cider vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. Once the water boils, we walk down to the dock and extract the struggling crabs from the live box. I pause and think, how often do you eat what you catch?
There’s something deep in a crab’s DNA that knows it’s all over when the Old Bay makes its appearance. Inside the bushel basket, the agitated crabs, now dusted with spice, look for their escape. The Minister of Leisure unceremoniously dumps the lot into the boiling pot. It’s a bit of a shock to see something become food; it’s a slightly uncomfortable part of the eating cycle often hidden from consumers. This food didn’t arrive packaged in plastic with a label — we’ve pulled this food straight from the water.
Now, a crab feast is a messy affair. While the crabs cook, we cover the table first with cardboard, then with newspaper, and finally with a plastic table cloth. We gather, sitting ready with our hammers, for the first pile of steaming crabs pulled from the pot.
There are as many ways to clean a crab as there are folks who eat crabs, and each in our own way we all dig in, relishing the catch which cannot be fresher or more local. The shells pile higher and higher as night falls over the water. Finally, when we’ve eaten our fill of crabs, bbq chicken, fresh guacamole and salad, we stand, and fold up all the shells and other mess in the thick layers of newspaper protecting the table.
Bellies full, we relax, looking out over the dark water of the Chesapeake. As the night wears on, it cools, and the Minister of Leisure lights a fire. We continue to catch up on our friends’ news (a first grandbaby, a trip to Spain, and local efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay oysters). Ah, the pleasures of home!