October 21, 2015
I have something to say. As I watched the cold front move through today, I was doing some serious thinking about one of my most favorite subjects- The Fall Crabs! I am often asked about our family's crab eating activities, and folks seemed surprised to learn that we do not eat crabs until our intrepid Captain Richard's birthday on September 30th. See ya'll, we know a thing or two about crabs. The fall crabs are superior. Now, I want to be real clear here. Every crab we harvest all season long is jammed pack with meat; if it is not perfect, it is not harvested. Only the best is ever sold at Coveside. Do ya'll recall that we returned all the hard crabs we caught for about two weeks when the first of the soft crab season started? I explained why in the Coveside "Note" entitled, "A Cautionary Tale for Hard Crab Lovers". Now, I am going to don my teaching cap to talk about the crabs of fall.
So. Why, ya'll are asking, are the fall crabs better if the crabs at Coveside are always packed? The fall crabs are intensely sweet! After the crabs stop growing (shedding) for the season, Mother Nature waves her magic wand to make them begin to store large amounts of sugar to survive the winter in the bay. The sugar is stored in the crab to use in the cold months that they are buried in the bottom of the bay. The beginning of that process is starting now. The huge soft crabs that I am pulling out of my tanks this week are the last for this season. Soon, I will turn off the pumps and close the shedding tanks until late next May.
The crab's job now is to get ready to bury in the floor of the bay. They are eating and storing large amounts of sugar. When the water at the bottom of the bay is 50 degrees to 52 degrees, the crabs retreat to deep water and burrow into the muddy or sandy bottom to spend the winter.. If you are following weather reports on the water temperature, remember that the number reported is the surface temperature. The water cools from top to bottom. A crab buries itself by forcing its abdomen backwards into the floor with quick snapping motions. While doing this, the crab will also pick and claw at the bottom with its hind walking legs and flip it away with the paddles of its swimming legs (the backfins). I do a pretty good demonstration of this, if I do say so myself… just ask to see! Within a few minutes the crab is resting at a 45° angle in the bottom, with only antennae, the tips of its eye stalks, and small breathing channels visible in the mud. Crabs do not really hibernate; rather they lie dormant for the long winter. Our bay crabs, young or old, remain buried throughout the cold months, in a remarkable state of suspended animation. They don't move, don't feed. They barely breathe. This capacity to wait, to slow down their physiology to just this side of death, allows them to make it through cold temperatures. Since they can't heat themselves metabolically, as warm-blooded creatures do, they have evolved a way to wait for warmer waters, when they can move again. Isn't Mother Nature a real Hoot!
The Maryland crabbing season is open until December 15th. October, November, and early December are the best months for these special treats! Interestingly, the first crabs of the new season are also intensely sweet, because they are these very crabs. The super sweet crabs of fall did not change, they rested and waited. The taste does not change again until the molting starts again in late May.
So. What this all means is that the fall crabs are the best tasting crabs of the season. Ya'll can enjoy hot and spicy Maryland blue crabs on a crisp autumn week night as a royal treat for the family. A Ravens game is the perfect time to steam-up a big pot of crabs from Coveside. We dock early on Sundays so ya'll can get crabs before the Ravens kick-off. Ya'll can have a half-time crab feast or tailgate party. That is about as tasty as it can get! Crabs for Halloween? Absolutely! Ya'll can save a turkey and eat crabs for Thanksgiving. That's what we do. I am ready to eat some crabs!
These intensively sweet fall crabs are truly an epicurean delight! Now, who is ready for the super sweet fall crabs? I am just saying...