Pop-Pop’s Crab Pots

I just read a thread on Reddit that was praising the virtue of the tasty Alaskan King Crab, and I sat there shaking my head. I’ve had it. It’s tasty, to be sure. but anyone who’s had King Crab, and even one Maryland Blue Crab wouldn’t for a second choose the huge claws of the former over the succulent sweetness of the latter. You get more meat, sure, but the meat you get isn’t anywhere near as awesome.

The article below does a good job of describing how they’re prepared and how tasty they are, but I want to share a personal recollection, because it’s so vivid in my head. Try them the next time you’re able, and let me know if you don’t agree.

http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/delicious-beautiful-swimmers

I was visiting my step-grandparents who lived on a small tributary of the Potomac River, in Maryland. It was called the Chikamuxkin Creek, which was a name that always captured my imagination, but also made me laugh, because to call it a creek would be similar to calling Lake Michigan a retention pond. It was a branch of the river, and at the point where Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop lived, it was essentially the river itself. You could watch the sun set over Quantico, Virginia on the other side, and you could drive your boat for four minutes and touch the bouys that marked the place where the “crick” ended and the river began. My cousin Lori taught me to swim in those waters, and I remember her making a game of finding ‘bambinos’ in the mud with our toes. ‘Bambinos’ were tiny mussels that we would pluck from the bottom and then hurl with as much skill as we could muster to skip them as many times as humanly possible. I think there was an eight-hop bambino that someone skipped, but it’s possible that time has inflated that number.

There were so many weekends spent in that house, and so many memories that I’ll probably revisit that place with you often. It was truly an amazing place for a kid to spend a summer weekend. Water-skiing, fishing, and night air filled with the loudest tree-frog chorus you’ve ever heard. But I’m here to talk about crabs.

When I first visited, crabbing was something that I only experienced on the fishing side, not the eating side. I think my Dad assumed that I wouldn’t like it, so he didn’t bother forcing me to eat it. I would go out in Pop-Pop’s tiny fishing boat to help him fish the crab pots. The family lovingly referred to it as Pop-Pop’s Putt-Putt, because of the sound of the small motor, and the lack of speed. I watched him hoist up each chicken-wire cage, and shake out the beautiful blue-green crabs. Some had to be pried away from the wire, holding on for dear life, and some were thrown back, for being too small. “We’ll see you later,” he’d say. Pop-Pop and my father didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I will always remember my dad’s chuckle when I asked Pop-Pop why the crabs would sometimes blow bubbles out of their mouths as they sat on the floor of the boat. “It’s the nature of the beast,” he said, and for years later my dad would use that quote to describe anything he didn’t have an immediate answer for, and give me a wink.

One weekend when I was ten or eleven, I asked my dad if I could eat crab with the adults. He asked if I really wanted it, and I nodded, and he told me to go help set up the table. The crab feast took place in a screened in kitchen that was down the hill separate from the main house. It was basically a detached porch with a stove and a sink in it that was used for cleaning fish and cooking crabs. Had a fridge that held bait and iced tea for the most part, if I remember correctly. When the crabs were almost ready, we would set out the card tables, and folding chairs for as many people as were eating, and we’d lay out newspaper and big metal bowls to put your shells in.

Here’s the difference though. If you go to Red Lobster, or some other place that serves Alaskan King, you get a shucking knife and you get a wooden mallet to whack that bad boy’s enormous claws. In my life, I never saw a mallet used in that screened-in kitchen. You used a butter knife, and that was it. The crabs were mostly soft enough that you only needed the knife for the claws. The rest was simply skill of picking, skills I learned from my cousins Lori and Debi, and from my step-mom, Diane, and my dad. Dad wasn’t so big on crabs, but he got a kick out of me trying to shuck them. It’s one of the only times in life when I can say without reservation that the amount of work involved is a part of the enjoyment of the meal. I was always a kid who loved listening to adult conversation, and when you’re eating crab, 80 percent of your time is spent talking and only 20 percent is spent actually shoving delicious crab meat into your mouth. There was Old Bay on the table, and vinegar, but for me the dipping was mostly unnecessary. The crab tasted so good on its own, and you worked so hard to get it out, that adulterating it with sauce somehow seemed a shame.

I remember once or twice just sitting there in that kitchen and looking around at the family surrounding me, most of them no blood relation, and thinking what a lucky person I was. Those folks, and that food, fed me in ways that still feed me today. Swimming in the Wisconsin river this year with my daughter and showing her ‘bambinos,’ even though she’s too young to remember, made me realize how lucky I still am. And when she’s old enough, I’m going to take her someplace where she can learn to shuck crabs the right way, without a mallet.

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  • Diane Archer

    Sean,

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience. It brought back many wonderful memories. Pop-Pop did enjoy his crabs – I think most of all, he enjoyed all of us enjoying ourselves. It was the nature of the beast!

    Love,
    Diane