I love blue crabs. Nothing says summer to me more than kicking back with a couple of drinks and a few good friends for a day in the sun, busting crabs and laughing. My mother used to steam her own, bringing home a bushel for the family. The smell of fish and Old Bay would linger everywhere. My sisters would try to pick up live ones with chopsticks, poking at the critters until one would latch on and be lifted into the giant double steamer we had for that purpose. They taught me how to crack a crab, while mom awed us with the gift of perfectly cracked claws presented still with a pincer handle. She preferred the eggs and 'mustard' (crab liver) to the meat itself, and would mix the goo in the top shell of the crab with a squirt of lemon juice and suck it down to our disgust. Then she'd crack the crab and give us all the meat. As a kid I thought the gooey stuff was the horrible part and rinsed it off. Later, I'd come to love crab eggs with a passion bordering on mania. In poorer times, when money for crabs was nonexistant, I'd do shots of lemon juice with salt, pepper, and Old Bay mixed in, just to remind myself of the flavor. Asians in general prefer lemon juice to melted butter; I'd perplexed waitresses by ordering a bowl of lemons for my crab. As an adult I would also learn the not-so-subtle aroma of crab and malt vinegar and herald it with equal culinary gusto.
I used to judge my 'keeper' friends by taking them out for blue crabs. If they daintily picked at the morsels, unwilling to dig in and get their hands (and everything else) dirty, I ditched them. I wanted people close to me who attacked life like a freshly cooked crab, diving in with joy, laughing instead of offended when squirted by accidental juice, willing to get dirty and groaning with pleasure at every bite. The kind of people who don't mind taking half a day just to eat one meal, who love to bask in the sun.
All passionate crabbers have their own tricks of the trade or secret. How a thick old newspaper thrown over the freshly steamed heap will help keep the crabs warm. Plastic bags filled with water can sometimes keep away certain pesky bugs, as can bunches of freshly picked basil or mounds of crushed bay leaves. Friends don't let friends use mallets. You can suck meat from the legs if you try hard enough. Carry band-aids to every meal. If it's not alive when it hits the pot, don't eat it. Asian blue crabs taste richer, but Gulf crabs taste the same as Chesapeake blues. Patience is a virtue, but the fastest gets the most crab.
So I was heartbroken to read this latest article about the dying of the Chesapeake. What could be more worthwhile than saving the Bay? Not only does it preserve a way of life for the fisherman of the coast, it preserves a community of crab lovers. I beg everyone to remember that nothing you throw out really goes away, especially when you dump it down a drain.
Save the Chesapeake.org
Chesapeake Bay Foundation