How to crab:
-Find an empty place along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. (We chose Janes Island State Park near Crisfield).
-Tie a chicken neck to a piece of twine and toss into water. Hold other end. Wait to feel a tug. Start yelling “Jon! Jon!” because Jon has the long-poled net. Get your visiting college roommate and husband to do the same. When Jon is too slow to respond, start screaming “JON! THE CRAB IS GETTING AWAY!”
-You and Jon pull the crab out of the water. Check to see if it is a boy or a girl. Do not try to touch the crab as Jon did, causing it to pinch his finger mercilessly and causing Jon to start shrieking in pain, flinging his hand violently to shed his finger of the clamped-on crab, and then toss the crab I worked so hard to catch back into the water. If it is a she and/ or less than five inches wide, toss back in.
-Repeat until you have more than a dozen crabs (to feed four people). Then steam crabs in stockpot saved from college over campfire grill, which roommate cannot believe you still own (the stockpot, that is), season with Old Bay, and dig in. If you didn’t catch enough, you can order them from a restaurant in town.
-Take rain cover off tent so you can see the stars through the tent at night and allow for more air circulation. In the middle of the night, when it starts raining on you, start yelling “Jon, Jon! Go outside and put the rain cover back on!” Get other members of the tent to say the same thing.
Yes, poor Jon, but he’s a good sport.
I first read about Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the award-winning classic, Jacob Have I Loved, about two rivaling siblings growing up on a fictional island off Crisfield. The resentful sister spent much of her days poling around on her skiff and fishing out crabs in the same manner. Today, on consulting Googlemaps, I would gamble to say that it is actually Smith Island, which is served by two ferry routes – one to Crisfield, the other to Sunnybank on the Maryland-Virginia border.
The second time I heard about the Eastern Shore was in Wedding Crashers, when Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson don plaid pants and boat shoes to hang out with a politician’s family on their waterfront estate. No crab was involved, which was too bad, but the romantic moment on the beach bike ride is on Assateague Island, where we tried to get a campsite, but had to book it back in winter.
Upon moving here, I started getting wind of the Eastern Shore as DC’s Hamptons or Cape Cod, except with less hoity-toity pretend-high-class and more digging into crabs. The idea is to one day get a joint vacation house with my sister and her husband so we can pile all our “extras” (furniture, bedding, pre-marriage dishes and pots, artwork, etc) into this joint house and have a place to go together, like at Christmas and random weekends. Turns out, in the six years that they’ve lived here, my sister and husband have never made it to the Eastern Shore. So this past weekend, Jon and I took my friend Grace and her husband Chih, who decided to escape the clutches of New York for a nature retreat, to explore this chunk of Maryland, the “right lung” as I described to Chih. Grace and I, who hadn’t lived together since 1998, decided to get re-acquainted as roommates by squashing into one tent with our respective husbands.
We packed for camping on Janes Island State Park, right next to Crisfield, overstuffing the back of Jon’s Xterra with camping supplies galore, including pillows and sheets. We drove across a few bridges, several cornfields, farm stands with Double Yolk eggs, small towns, big towns, strip malls, waterways, until we reached our camp site, 20 feet from the water. The camp sites were separated from the water by a long green lawn, where people set up dinner to enjoy by the sunset. We got bitten by hundreds of mosquitoes, some which splattered blood when we slapped them dead, and Chih and Grace took home a few ticks in their clothes (more nature than they really anticipated). People were fishing for crabs all along the waterway and pulling up enough for dinner, so we decided to try it ourselves the next night.
We scored only four crabs, one which I killed when I threw it in the cooler of ice and it suffocated in fresh/ ice water. The other one we also had to drown because it was completely wrapped in our net and Jon did not want to get pinched again. The other three died of natural cooking causes. They were delicious. We ended up buying another half dozen because we didn’t catch enough. The couple at the campsite I really wanted had taken their canoe out into the middle of the Janes Island waterways with the net and bucket and caught a dozen giant crabs. We had taken out canoes to the same area and spent lunch time on the beach and splashing around in the warm ocean, but didn’t think to go crabbing in the area. Well, I did think about it, but I could only picture the crabs getting loose in the canoe. At least now we have a crab trap and net to add to our future vacation home.
Some more pictures. Enjoy!
above: Jon walking along the dock at Janes Island.
left: Chih and Grace paddling
right: Chih sleeps in
Above: Beach along Chesapeake edge of Janes Island.