Though it has been enticingly tempting to react here to the political scene in America, I’ve been able to suppress my disbelief, anger and frustration and stick to subjects that do not ignite my wish to skewer the offending persons with my weapon of words. But a recent article in the Washington Post by Maura Judkins entitled “Crabby about picking” struck a match to a cultural, culinary and regional sacrament such that I must share these thoughts with you. Ms. Judkins attacked Maryland’s peculiar institution of picking and eating Chesapeake Bay blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), our “beautiful savory.”
First, the article featured an innocent graphic of a crab, but the crab illustrated was not even a blue crab; I don’t know what kind it was supposed to be, but it was not the subject crab. Our sainted crab has spines on each side of its shell, conveniently provided by Mother Nature so that watermen can assess the legality of their catch.
The initial attack tried to make the case that picking the sweet, white meat from a properly seasoned, steamed crab was” too much work” and that the labor yields far too little reward. Then the author invokes the 10 times greater yield of the lobster, that denizen of the murky, green aquaria in grocery seafood counters. I will allow the author that picking a crab does offset to some small degree the calories. I choose to regard that labor versus calorie as an ancillary reward.
Some of those enjoying blue crabs actually have their spouses pick their crabs for them. In so doing, the recipient of the picked meat will not get the full effect of the seasonings, already being assimilated into the picker’s very flesh. (More of this anon.) Perhaps the same individual will ask his spouse to open his beer bottle for him as well, although I strongly suspect he’s having wine with his crab — and probably a timid rosé, at that.
Yes, pain is part of picking crabs. Get over it. Do you recall the scene in “Jaws” when Quint and Hooper compare their scars from shark bites? The male bonding was palpable. The two men become blood brothers of the sea. But not Police Chief Brody. Yes, you will get puncture wounds and fine, paper-like cuts from enthusiastic Blue crab picking. Bleeding digits do sting as Ms. Judkins suggests. The seasonings are, indeed, salt in the wounds, but with continued picking, they become numb, but remain supple enough to harvest the crab’s internals for the buttery, heavenly, white meat. Some things are worth fighting for. Those fingertips are the proud Purple Hearts of crab picking.
Then there are the complaints about the smell. I wonder if the smell issue might be because these critics haven’t truly been immersed in the aroma sufficiently (it’s not a “smell”; it’s more an “aroma” or “ambience!”) Appropriate inhalation of the steaming crab’s perfume should almost take one’s breath, and certainly water one’s eyes. Like marijuana, it won’t work if it’s not inhaled. “Oh, it takes me two days to get rid of the smell from my fingers! What can I do to get this smell out of my apartment?” Do you recall the character Robert Duvall played in “Apocalypse Now”? “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. … It’s the smell of victory!” Well, I love the smell of crabs in the house; it’s the smell of several hours of fun with my friends.
Pusillanimous pickers, you need to pick more, not less. Maybe the setting wasn’t correct. Perhaps your crab meal didn’t include Maryland tomatoes, fresh Maryland corn on the cob. Perhaps not even Natty Boh. I’ll bet far too many of you supplemented the crabs with its distant pushover cousin, steamed shrimp. Or worse, lobster. You didn’t commit.
I have a suggestion assured to bring about a lasting world peace. Assemble a summit of world leaders, outdoors, around strong but plain wooden picnic table in August. Cover the table, not with s sumptuous linen tablecloth, but with cast-off newspapers; classified ads work best as they contain no political news. Pour pitchers of Natty Boh; have several rolls of paper towels; trays of Maryland steamed blue crabs, slices of locally grown tomatoes and corn on the cob; a little butter and salt. Place a few ringers around the table to teach the uninitiated. For maximum safety, you won’t even need to supply knives. I open and pick my crabs with crab claws. “I don’ need no stinkin’ knife!” No one may leave the table until three or four trays of crabs and several pitchers of Natty Boh are consumed. After mastering the picking; getting smelly, pained fingers, messy hands and faces; immense piles of discarded shells, and the sleepy comfort of beer, they will understand one another. They will begin to plan the next crab feast. They will be blood brothers.
Steve Lloyd writes from Clover Hill and may be reached at email@example.com.