Monday, June 18, 2012

Crabfest 2012

By Roberta Estes

One of the Hatteras traditions is “pickin crab.”  In the local lingo, this means Blue Crab when it’s in season, which means now.  You can steam it yourself or you can order it by the bushel, fresh, steamed with Old Bay, and ready for eating.  That’s just what we did.  If you go to a restaurant, you’ll pay about $50 for a dozen.  Bought this way, it’s about $15 per person for about a dozen each, depending on the size.  Not only is this a great value, you get to participate in a communal eating experience second to none.  And in the process, we’ll even drop in an archaeology lesson.

Your crabs, freshly cooked and warm, arrive in a waterproof box.  The first thing that you must do is to find a way to completely cover the table.  Also, if carpet is involved, if you can, move the party outside (unless there are seagulls).  Seagulls love crab.  If this leaks into the carpet, you may smell the party for a long time afterwards.

Oh yes, and an order of hushpuppies is definitely in order as well.  Just don’t try to eat anything that requires silverware.  You’ll understand momentarily.

Dr. Charlie, a NC resident is demonstrating the technique of obtaining the crab from within the shell.  Hey, did you know these things came with a pop top?  Yes, all you need then is butter and beer to make the meal complete.

Normally, after the pop top thing, one uses nut crackers and picks to obtain the crab from the claw.  However, if you don’t have enough to go around and there is a wait for the tools, there are also alternate ways in to the crab…as aptly demonstrated by Jenn.  I love an innovative woman!!!

Here’s the entire table as we began.  Rolls of paper towels are mandatory.

 I can still hear Andy……”You’re doing bloody what and you’re eating it?  No, no way I can do that.”  Andy made a nice meal on hush puppies and some select clawmeat.  Apparently English crabs need less messy work up front!  By the end of the meal, he was already thinking about Crabfest Bideford as a huge public meal.  It’s hard to have more fun than this.

So here’s the archaeology lesson.  This week, we were digging in middens.  Middens are trash heaps, and you can tell a whole lot about the people that lived there from what they left behind.  Our crabfest table looks just like the middens we were digging, which bring to mind how the people then must have eaten as well.  We found bits of charcoal, which tells us they were cooking.  We found mounds of shells, mostly oyster shells, but intermixed with pot sherds and very large fish bones, mostly vertebrae the size of human vertebrae.  These people did not go hungry.  Unlike their land-dwelling counterparts, they did not have to rely on agriculture or hunting, they could rely on what the sea could and would provide for them.  Oyster beds existed near the Outer Banks islands.  We know this because of the oyster shell mounds in some middens.  This leads one to ask whether or not these oysters were being harvested for food or pearls, or perhaps both.  We know that pearls of different colors were coveted by the native people, and the larger, the better.

An oyster is mature in 3 years and their natural lifespan is about 6, that is, of course, unless either a human or a starfish interferes.   They are eaten only in the winter months.

We don’t find crab shells in middens.  They are much less durable and quite a bit thinner than actual mollusk shells.  But rest assured, the Native people had scenes that looked a lot like this…of course without the bottled beer and the “Trust Me I’m A Doctor” T-shirt.

The only bad thing about crabs is that you have to work so hard to get the meat out and it’s such a slow process that you never get full.  You just get tired of eating and your hands begin to hurt from the shelling and the Old Bay.

Here’s one happy crabber – Anne.
It takes a Hatteras Native to explain about how to obtain the crab most effectively.  Lessons are in order from Dawn.  Some of us needed remedial lessons too.

Jenn, innovating again.  Necessity is the mother of invention.

Alex just couldn’t be bothered with taking the shell off.
I think we’re finally done, but there are crabs left over.  Dawn is “pickin” the left over crabs for crabcakes.  Yum.  Seafood is never better than where is it caught and fresh.

And the trash, well, that’s a matter of perspective.  Jenn took a piece of crab outside and was immediately bombarded by the local seagulls.  They loved the pieces we didn’t eat.  Apparently, as far as they were concerned, we had not gotten all of the good stuff.  So, share one and share all.

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