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Crab Feasts, Maryland Style


crackers
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Crab feasts are the quintessential Maryland eating experience, no? Pulling in to Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard, in southern Calvert County, for an annual professional association shin-dig, we were greeted with stacks of bushel baskets brimming with live local jimmies pulled from southern Maryland waters. The picnic tables were ready with brown paper, mallets, saltine crackers, vinegar and paper towels.

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The crabs were mostly mediums, more light ones than I would have expected, but steamed right on-site they were sweet and hot – Old Bay style. The crabs were replenished even before we could finish the trays already on the table, so I lost count of how many we plowed through – lots. For sides there were sweet white corn, good ‘cue, burgers, dogs, slaw, potato salad, chocolate chip cookies and brownies. For some reason, no watermelon or cantaloupe this year.

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And of course, endless Bud on tap with which to wash it all down. Followed by a long siesta. Is there a better way to spend a hot summer afternoon in southern Maryland?

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Edited by crackers
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This is similar but not quite like what I grew up with in the Baltimore suburbs. I'm specifically curious about the vinegar. What's that for? Do people dip crab meat into vinegar?! Is it a Southern Maryland thing? Unless I've lost it, which is always possible, I don't recall ever seeing vinegar served with crabs. Another difference is that the crabs looked very mildly spiced. I'm used to seeing them covered with Old Bay half an inch thick. The photo of those nekkid bottom feeders reminds me of the time I ate crabs with the parents of a friend from Ontario. They kept a bucket of water on the table and rinsed off each crab prior to eating it. Ooh, too spicy, ya know. In any case, perhaps Baltimore crab feasts and Southern Maryland crab feasts have stylistic differences. Interesting.

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  Do people dip crab meat into vinegar?!  Is it a Southern Maryland thing?  Unless I've lost it, which is always possible, I don't recall ever seeing vinegar served with crabs.  Another difference is that the crabs looked very mildly spiced.  I'm used to seeing them covered with Old Bay half an inch thick. 
Most crab feasts I go to - mostly in Anne Arundel and Eastern Shore, have cups of vinegar, butter, and Old Bay (or similar) - all for dipping. I like to dip the claw meat in vinegar. Also there is usually water for rinsing off extra spices. You are right that the seasoning on the crabs was lighter than usual, although it was uneven - later batches had a lot more. We were given extra Old Bay too. Probably had more to do with the purveyor than the location.
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Most crab feasts I go to - mostly in Anne Arundel and Eastern Shore, have cups of vinegar, butter, and Old Bay (or similar) - all for dipping. I like to dip the claw meat in vinegar. Also there is usually water for rinsing off extra spices.  You are right that the seasoning on the crabs was lighter than usual, although it was uneven - later batches had a lot more.  We were given extra Old Bay too.  Probably had more to do with the purveyor than the location.

St Mary's County includes cider vinegar with minced onion, a mignionette of sorts.

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There is nothing that I like more than a good crab feast. I really believe that good, freshly prepared crabs are my favorite food in the world.

One of my favorite memories from childhood was the summer tradition of pulling up the cages (usually about 10-15) that hung off of my grandparents' dock on the eastern shore. Then my brother, my cousin and I would have to wrangle them out of the cages all the while laying claims on those we guessed would be the best. Sometimes we would name them, sometimes not. As the water started boiling on the stone grill built in the middle of the yard for just this purpose, my grandmother would emerge from the kitchen with bowls of the most outstanding oyster stew. That oyster stew, with extra sherry, was the only thing that could calm me down enough to wait for the crabs to start coming. Then we would eat!

As for how to eat the crabs, I skip both the butter and the vinegar, opting for extra Old Bay (but not on every bite). I like to pour additional Old Bay on the paper near me, and every so often I dip my fingers into it so that just a bit stick on the actual bite of crab. Not a neat or delicate process, but I love the mess of picking!

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