Monday, August 15, 2011

Craving Blue Crabs!

I grew up in Southern Maryland right up the hill from the Potomac River, backwater creeks and estuaries. When the weather got hot the craving for Steamed Crabs was strong. It was part of a family tradition to get a line, some chicken necks or smoked eel, cut them up small and attach them to a trout line. The trout line had bouys attached to each end...and an anchor to hold it in place. We would get in the boat with our line, bait, dip nets and a bushel basket.

We would usually head out early in the morning and place the line to attract the crabs. Then we would go ashore to come back a little later to fish the line.
It was an exciting time as you crept back up to the line and began to pull it bait piece by bait piece. If you were lucky, the entire string would have a crab on each little piece of bait. We used to fill a bushel basket in one morning.

Then, we would hurry home with our "catch", place them in a large stainless steel drum with just the right amount of water in the bottom to cover the rack and lots and lots of cayenne, Old Bay and Salt! About 30 minutes later out came the most beautiful, tasty creatures you ever ate. Believe me, by the time we were four, we knew how to pick out our own crabs. This is an art that people in Southern Maryland learn at a very young age, and never, never forget.

You don't have to have a boat to catch crabs however, or even a trout line with smoked eel. This Summer, while we were at Okaloosa Island, I took my granddaughters crabbing for the first time. We went to the bait store and picked up some collapsible basket traps ( about $3.00 each ) and then to Publix for a package of about a dozen chicken necks ( about another $3.00 ). As you can see, crabbing isn't expensive. It does however, require GREAT patience.

After purchasing our supplies, we headed for a local public dock to hunt the watery treasure. The girls were beside themselves with excitement about the possibility of catching crabs. After tying the chicken necks to the bottom of the traps, we placed our little baskets into the shallow water off the end of the dock and waited.

It wasn't too long before we pulled up our first tiny (just a little over 3" point to point) crab! You would have thought it was a 200 pound Marlin for all the excitement it generated. The girls were ecstatic, and I was thrilled at the memories we would share about this day. We only caught eight crabs that afternoon, but taking them home and preparing them for the girls was part of a tradition I wished to pass to yet another generation of our family.

I spent a little time showing them how to pick out their own meat, also part of the tradition, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.
We shared lots of time, talk and just plain fun that day on the dock. We even had a large Blue Heron who sat at the end of the dock and kept company with us ALL day! We knew what he was waiting for, and when we got ready to leave, he got his reward.
What a happy bird he was. Didn't know Herons ate chicken necks, sounded kinda cannibalistic to me, but he gobbled it right down.

Making memories and carrying on traditions with your children and grandchildren is such an important part of life. These special little moments are the ones they will remember more than the trips to expensive amusement parks. Hopefully they will carry these joyful moments with them and share them with their own children someday.

Oh, by the way, here is a family recipe for the best Crab Cakes you will ever eat.
Just in case you are like my hubby, who was born in Pennsylvania, and refuses to learn to pick out crabs!



1 Pound can use your favorite...I prefer lump, but claw is
equally tasty
1/2 cup melted butter..yes BUTTER
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped, sauteed onions
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning (there is NO substitute for this)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

combine above ingredients until well mixed, adding crabmeat LAST...gently fold crabmeat into the mixture. Scoop (I use and ice cream scoop) mixture and place gently in lightly oiled frying pan and flatten slightly. Brown lightly on both sides.

Serve immediately....these can be made ahead and warmed in the oven before serving if you can keep your family from gobbling them up as they come out of the pan!
I make "mini" crabcakes as an appetizer during the holidays. The kids just love 'em!

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