Out and About (Sort of): Defending the Delicious by Howard Freedlander

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An article in a major newspaper that tries to capture Eastern Shore culture and idiosyncrasies often falls flat and fails to be funny and clever. Such was the case last week in a Washington Post story in the Style section entitled “Crabby about picking.”

The subject was picking and eating hard-shell crabs. The writer interviewed several people who nearly unanimously complained about the unsatisfying effort to eat a crab, citing little reward in its meatiness, or the smell that remained in one’s hands for days, or the cuts that might happen while eating Maryland’s state crustacean.

I tried hard to glean some humor. But I couldn’t. The writer missed the point—maybe deliberately so, maybe not.

If the writer had chosen to view crab-eating as a cultural ritual, I suspect its content would have been meatier and juicier. Instead, she chose to treat the subject whimsically, implicitly questioning the devouring of a shellfish deemed so undesirable to her.

The more I thought about the writer’s distasteful view of the blue crab, the more steamed I became. I decided to claw back and defend this conveyor of delicious crabmeat.

In many ways, steamed crabs are a uniting force, bringing people together at one table for hours, equipped with crab knives, mallets, beverages, corn, tomatoes—and eliciting joy at eating an incredible delicacy. So, yes, the blue (red when cooked) is a social, even charismatic animal.

People’s moods seem to change when eating crabs. Conversation admittedly is a bit interrupted amid the pounding of mallets, a few finger cuts and a piddling amount of blood and frequent utterances of pure excitement as a piece of lump meat delights the palette.

My wife and I, once the crab season is in full throttle, consistently order our crabs at Gay’s Seafood on Easton Point and rarely are disappointed. We figure we are eating truly local crabs harvested from the Miles and Tread Avon rivers. I’m struck by how simple the operation is, yet the results are sumptuous.

In the Post article, the writer observes, “For locals who don’t like picking crabs, the summer is full of yellowed entrails, foul marine odors, social engagements to avoid and loyalties to defend.” Now, I admit that I know people who either are allergic to shellfish, or simply don’t want to go to the trouble of picking a crab. 

I understand we all have our culinary likes and dislikes. However, dissing on hard-shell or soft-shell crabs is uncommon, if not disrespectful.

Deliberate avoidance of social shellfish occasions? That’s going a bit far.

Taking the side of reluctant, if not recalcitrant crab-eaters, the Post writer states, “And that (feeling forced to eat), for the crab-averse, is the worst part of all. Not only are they expected to dismember and disembowel a bottom-dwelling animal, spending hours tweezing out tiny morsels of meat as shell puncture their skin, but they’re also expected to like it.”

Now, this last comment really offends my fancy for, and dedication to crabs. It just seems so unnecessarily negative. Does crab-eating take time and possibly inflict a few cuts along the way? Yes. Is eating a crabcake far easier? Yes. 

Is forsaking the pure joy of eating delicious crabmeat (and all the comes with it) with friends and spending time talking for hours between bites a desirable course of action? No. 

I haven’t mentioned the cost, which can be hefty in an urban area, maybe as much as $125-$150 a dozen. That’s costly. I agree. At Gay’s, I pay $40 a dozen. At $3.33 per crab, it’s well worth the price. 

I’ve made my case in defense of a tasty and habit-forming crustacean. I grant the naysayers their distaste. We each have our particular food attachments.

But, I urge the Washington Post writer to find some hard-shell devotees the next time she writes about the blue crab. And that she understands that a crab feast knows no political boundaries.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. Amy N Gagnon says

    Well done Mr. Freedlander!

  2. Fred Wyman says

    Well said

  3. Paul Cox says

    Howard,
    Excellent article. I sense an underlying theme in the Post story. We all know that DC exists in it own world, its own bubble. Clearly the Post article is about venturing beyond the bubble into the heathen world where natives drink adult beverages and pick crabs on hot summer days. In fact, the article seems really about providing excuses to the uninitiated for not partaking in our cherished ritual. I propose you consider a strategy to subvert this reinforcing group think mentality. Why not invite the author of the article to try a soft shell crab sandwich? They may need to be blindfolded but they may actually discover our little crustacean is something truly worth savoring. And then they may write an article truly advocating for the Maryland Blue Crab. In a way the soft shell crab sandwich could serve as a gateway drug for hard core crab picking. Of course, maybe what goes on in DC should just stay there. We have a lot people from DC here – and why are they here? To get away from there, duh! So let DC hold on to their little conceits and what goes on in the bubble can just stay in the bubble.

  4. Yeah, that article irritated me, too. Write about something you like – leave us alone. And for the record, Chesapeake Landing’s mediums are $35/dozen right now.

  5. Douglas Firth says

    I like the way you think Howard!

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