Daddy's Birthday- a real down east crab stew
Monday, August 10, 2009
My brother and his friend Kevin, come east every August from Los Angeles for our father's birthday. It's a nicer time to travel than the winter holidays. I've been extremely busy this summer, so I didn't have the time I would have liked but we I did manage a few days down east. My task was crab stew for forty. I grew up cleaning fish and crabs. I dress hundreds of softshells every season at work. But sixty live, large hard blue crabs were a different kettle of fish as it were. As my sisters watched from the porch asking questions like "isn't that mean?", I went out into the back yard to tackle the cardboard box full of angry sea creatures. An hour and a half later I was filthy and drenched with sweat. Crabs that large are very strong. I ruined a pair on my mother's gardening gloves and I kept knocking over my beer.
These big stew dinners are a tradition in coastal North Carolina. They are very messy, so often people eat outside on picnic tables covered with newspaper. My mother had decided that we should eat inside in spite of this because of the mosquitoes. So the dining room was lined in newspaper. Neighbors and relatives brought all the sides. I made the stew and two batches of ice cream- one peach and one vanilla. It was quite a party, although, I was the last to find out, it wasn't really for my father's birthday. No cake, no gifts. That was three days later. This was just a wingding for neighbors, people from church and work and relatives who were free on a Wednesday afternoon.
As usual, the house looked like a restaurant. It had been a long time since I had made one of these stews. It was really good, but we still picked over it afterwards comparing it to what we remembered. I thought it needed more bacon. It wasn't smoky enough. I had used all we had but I didn't want to make yet another trip to the store. My Aunt Margaret thought it needed more hot pepper. I agreed, but I had deliberately held back on that not realizing that the craving for ever spicier food had even reached into eastern North Carolina. My Aunt Mary Catherine wanted more potatoes. Right again. They had mostly cooked away, which is good, but I should have added more later in the cooking to provide some chunks. Making this after such a long time was almost like never having done it at all. But, now I have my mental notes. Perhaps we'll do one again at Christmas.
As always, we took a minute to run down the street to Tryon Palace Seafood for take out fried and oysters and shrimp. It is so wonderful to have such a place within smelling distance. Also, after a day trip to Fort Macon, we made a stop at another old favorite- El's in Morehead City. Sometimes these places leave me at a loss for words.
posted by Bill Smith at 8:30 PM