In Wooden Nickels, Hattie and Raymond sit down to bowls of she-crab soup, but soup isn’t the only thing you’ll find crab in here along the Chesapeake Bay.
t’s one of the things we here in Maryland are famous for – blue crabs. Yeah, yeah, technically our southern neighbors in Virginia have crabs in their section of the bay as well, but everyone knows the ones from up in the Maryland section are far superior to those from Virginia.
Part of that is probably because Maryland is where the famous spice in the tin can is from – Old Bay Seasoning. Old Bay wasn’t created until 1938, but long before then people were steaming (not boiling, *shudders*) their crabs in a combination of paprika, peppers, garlic, and other spices. Just as lobster was considered a poor man’s food, so was the blue crab. They’re vicious little monsters, and once they latch onto you with their claws, they’re not easy to detach. Plus there’s a lot of work that goes into picking the small amount of not-so-filling meat from all the shells. Although Native Americans, Colonists, and African Americans have consumed them in the past, the blue crab didn’t become widely eaten until the late 19th century, and even then recipes were less about picking through a heap of steamed crabs dumped on a table, and more about getting a container of already processed crabmeat and adding it to stew, soups, or sautéing it in wine. It wasn’t until 1930 when the Baltimore ‘crabcake’ became famous that the food really took off.
As gross and messy as it might be, I love getting a bushel of steamed crabs, and picking through them on a hot summer day, suffering through painful papercut-like slices on my fingers from the shell fragments, and digging through sections to make sure I’ve gotten all the yummy crabmeat out. I’m a purist, but friends like to dip the meat in melted butter or an additional dab of Old Bay before eating it.
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