Warning: The following column may be innately offensive and totally disgusting to PETA members. Therefore, I warn you to avert your eyes as I tried to do when I saw the larger than life Baltimore billboard, paid for by PETA, that read, “I’m ME, Not MEAT.” The sign suggested that crabs are “individuals” within and don’t deserve to be eaten, and that crab eaters should “Go Vegan.” (Really?)
Orange, the color of crispy fall leaves, ripe pumpkins, October sunsets and … steamed crabs?!
As summer ends, and the thoughts of apple cider and pumpkin-flavored-everything dance in our heads, my family laments the ultimate decline of a steady supply of Maryland steamed crabs during the winter.
Ever since my children were toddlers, they acquired a taste for crabs, which I think began with multiple visits to Ocean City that always produced some form of the crustacean delight. Of course, our children didn’t eat the highly spiced steamed ones, but crab soup became their first introduction to the shellfish specialty.
In particular, I remember an Ocean City vacation when my husband and I went out to dinner, leaving our 3-year-old with family members who were eating crab soup. Later, we returned to a happy baby whose broth-soaked pajamas and empty bowl revealed our child’s appreciation for a new food choice. My aunt and uncle marveled that one so young could appreciate the seafood staple of Maryland.
And so it began, with instructions from my husband, Paul, about how to pick a crab — something I wasn’t familiar with because our family used to eat fried hard crabs that we purchased from a takeout seafood restaurant. Mostly, we tore off the deep-fried batter — savoring the crust — and hammered away, pulverizing the shell as we unsuccessfully attempted to separate the meat.
Fried hard crabs was not the way to go in the Merritt household. As the children grew, all of us became students of how to dismantle a steamed crab. I was the reluctant one, hoping Paul would continue to pick the meat for me but that wasn’t to be. Instead, we all learned lessons which included the use of knives, hammers and fingers, and separating the apron of the crab. We learned how to like the “mustard,” how to remove claw meat in one smooth piece, and how to suck the juices and slivers of meat from those minute legs that are too much trouble to tackle for most people.
Our memories include backyard crab feasts with our neighbors, during which Paul steamed the multi-legged critters in an enormous pot loaded with Old Bay seasoning and beer. The best part for our children, however, was watching the live crabs trying to escape from our bathtub — the only place to put them — prior to cooking.
As any Marylander knows, crab eating is a social event. What better way to enjoy casual cuisine than with a mound of crabs in the center of a newspaper lined table — preferably one that is wooden to absorb the shock of pounding. To add some interest to the taste buds, small containers of melted butter and vinegar can also be placed there and rolls of paper towels are a must for Old Bay encrusted hands.
Marylanders also know that no crab feast is complete without beer, though I admit I’d rather have iced tea.
As the children became adults, their taste buds continued to savor the crustaceans, and they hosted their own crab feasts.
Ultimately, Paul surrendered his crab pot to our son when we moved to North Carolina, a place barren of the “good” blue crabs. We were happy to know that the old pot continued to cook dozens of crabs until the holes at the bottom rendered it useless.
Six years later, when we returned home, we were happy to indulge, once again, satiating our taste buds during family visits and eating at seafood restaurants.
Today, our son and his family continue eating crabs as long as they can, especially in the summer where they relax during several weekends in Ocean City, indulging in their favorite seafood at several of their preferred places.
Our daughter and her family live in Southern Maryland on the water, catching their own crabs, steaming them, and visiting several local seafood restaurants.
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The crab cycle continues, but I admit that I never consume as many as the rest of my family. (I would, however, if someone picked them for me.)