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September 18th,
written by Arthur

For years I’ve near heard Nick’s stories of epic crab feasts. Mountains of Maryland’s best eaten outdoors with an endless flow of beer.  Unable to make it last year, I jumped at the invitation to join this early September.

I love the Midwest, but there are some joys that my blessed heritage simply could not provide.  Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes lay far from the oceans and their briny bounty.  Eating decent seafood in my home state means a visit to a specialty store or a high end restaurant.  Only on moving to the East Coast did I find high quality seafood at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

The crab feast efforts are led by Nick’s long time friend, Tom.  Tom’s recent purchase of a house with his fiancé Teresa put this years feast in jeopardy.  But Nick’s tenacity came through and Tom and Teresa were convinced to open the doors of their new home to a hungry hoard. Nick, Becca, and I were tasked with bringing two things: beer and butter.  After picking-up two cases of light beer we swung by the super market to grab the butter.  We grabbed two pounds of butter and, with a joke in mind, an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter olive oil based spray.  Tom feigned calmness as Nick told him that the store was out of butter, but the spray should be good enough.  But, when Becca finally broke the really butter out of her purse Tom literally breathed a sigh of relief.  He had exercised immense restrain by not belittling Nick (“for fuck-sake Nick, you’re from MarylandII!”).   A few laughs later we were off to see the crabs.

The crabs were in a true bushel.  For the Midwestern, think a bushel of apples but replace the apples with crabs.  Dozens of crabs.  Crabs with bright blue claws and legs protruding from a gray shell and white underbelly.  Crazy little arachnid-like creatures who appear asleep but, when prodded, wake-up and spray a bit of water before snapping their muscular pinchers or scurrying about.

Tom set-up a giant steamer with water, cider vinegar, and a mixture of seasoning.  The smell was fantastic as it heated-up.  Two dozen or so crabs were layered in the bottom and covered with a layer of Tom’s secret spice mixture (old bay plus…).  More layers were added until the steamer was full and half the bushel empty.

As the crabs cooked the picnic table on the back deck was prepared: newspapers laid, hammers and knives piled, dishes of melted butter, and cups of cider vinegar.  You don’t need no plates for a crab feast!  And finally the first batch was ready.

The veterans helped us newbies through the crab eating process.  How to start with the claws and get at the meat in the middle of the small beasts.  I was a mess.  I covered myself and everyone near me in a spray of crab juice.   It was ugly.   But, I got at the meat with little waste leaving no tasty morsel behind.

To my surprise I loved the rich meat dipped in the cider vinegar.  The acidity balanced the crabs’ decadence. Though a dunk or butter now and then didn’t hurt either.  I ate and ate and ate, taking down five of ’em.

Just in case crabs weren’t enough, Tom also slow smoked a beautiful slab of meat to make a mound of pulled pork.  At 1:30 a.m., as I was leaving the bar the night before, Tom was firing up his smoker.  The slow cook paid off and the pork was delicious, but I focused my stomach space on the piles of crabs.

A final surprise for me was how happy I was to be drinking Miller Lite as I took down crab after crab.  As readers of this blog might have gathered, I can be a bit of a beer snob.  Maybe a Pilsner could have stepped in, but an American light beer was just what this crab feast called for.  Something to wash everything down while keeping its place in the background.

After eating, and as a torrential down pour started, the 15 or so guests retired inside to the living room.  More beer was drank over conversation and stories about the “old days” while the couple’s bulldog scramble for attention.  For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, this was one the most adult feeling dinner experience I’ve had.  It was chill, not fancy.  Calm, but not boring.  Just a feeling of being older–in a good way.  Maybe it’s because I’ve turned 30.  Maybe it was similar to what I remember as a child when my parents would bring me along to get-togethers with their friends.  Maybe it was the couple’s “real” home.  It was comfortable.  I can’t thank Tom and his fiancé enough.

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