I Love You…A Bushel (of crabs) and a peck….
A Marylander’s rendition of “Bushel and a Peck” from Guys and Dolls
Growing up not far from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, summertime meant CRABS! Lump crab. Steamed crabs. Crab soup. Crab cakes. Crab salad. We sought out every possible opportunity and method to eat crabs. For my family, crab feasts often helped earmark certain celebrations: school graduations, milestone anniversaries, birthdays or simply celebrating SUMMER. Inevitably, after a night of crab merriment, I’d wake up the next morning with a “crabover” – a hang over from too much crab consumption. I’d feel bloated, my fingers were often swollen, and my entire body seemed to reek from Old Bay seasoning. Does the crabby aftermath seem inconceivable to you? It was totally worth it.
My car in high school proudly displayed the celebrated bumper sticker, “Maryland is for crabs.”
My favorite tee-shirt in high school? “I Got Crabs on the Eastern Shore.” (get the pun?)
On many sultry August nights, against the chorus of chirping crickets, we’d cover the citronella-lit tables in my backyard with a week’s worth of old newspapers (ah yes, the days before Kindles, IPADS and other ereaders). We’d then decorate the table with crab mallets, heaps of individual saltine cracker packs, wet naps, freshly-buttered Silver Queen corn,and of course, plastic cups full of lemonade for the kids and ice-cold beer for the adults. When everyone selected their places at the table, one person would receive the highest honor and dump the bushel of Old Bay seasoned steamed crabs on the newspaper. We’d fervently start cracking away. As a kid, I never really got frustrated by the amount of work it took to get such a miniscule amount of crab meat because I approached crab feasts as family “events”. There’s an art in cracking open the crab claws and the crab keys with the mallets to seek out the best places to discover fresh lump meat. And boy, when I hit it right, I’d hold up the meaty claw for everyone to ooh and ah. While everyone was outside, Mom was almost always in the kitchen, preparing some foods we could eat on the side to off set all that crab. She refused to partake in the crude crab-eating experience, citing it was way too messy and fearing manicure mishaps.
A few summers ago, after much longing for authentic Maryland steamed crabs, and even more online research, I actually found a place on the Chesapeake Bay that airlifts bushels of Maryland crabs to any US destination for same-week delivery! You can imagine my utter delight knowing I’d have my chance to replicate one of my favorite summer eating pastimes with my family. Although a bit pricey, I had the full support of my husband (another fellow Marylander). So, while they aren’t 100% freshly caught, we still enjoy steaming the crabs over the stove in beer, slathering on boxes and boxes of Old Bay and dumping them down on the newspapered tables.
I was quite bummed when I was looking at the calendar this past weekend and realized there are only two more weekends of summer break and we haven’t had any crabs at our house. Shame on me. I felt like I shirked a summer responsibility. But, I was able to compensate this loss with a crab recipe that’s possibly even better, with MUCH less work. I got Mom’s celebrated hot crab dip appetizer recipe from my sister. This particular recipe has been requested by scores of people who remember eating Mom’s appetizer all-year-long. I spent hours scouring hundreds of Mom’s recipes and turned up empty. I feared the genuine ingredients would be lost forever. However, unbeknownst to me, my sister knew the recipe by heart. And, it wasn’t until 6 months later, exasperated and defeated, that I finally spoke of my predicament. She proudly proclaimed, “why didn’t you just ask, I KNOW IT BY HEART.” A sigh of relief washed over me. If I can’t bring authentic steamed Maryland crabs to my family, I’m bringing out Mom’s secret weapon: the hot-cheesy-crabby appetizer that’s as good from the spoon as it is on a cracker.
And so, in the past week, I’ve made the crab appetizer 3 times. Every time it’s not only been well-received and gobbled up with not one ounce of anything left in the dish, but, I’ve been told it’s “as good or better than any restaurant style dip.”
So, now’s your turn to bake an easy crab dish that’ll receive accolades every time. However, I learned the hard way that you don’t necessarily have to take your “lumps.” The recipe calls for 1 pound of lump crab meat. Be practical and visit your local Costco or grocery store to see if Phillip’s lump crab is sold for about $15 per pound. Once again, as your kitchen-clueless pal, I naively ran right into Citarella, our specialty food store, and paid $30 per pound! You won’t go wrong either way.
Judy’s Hot Crab Dip
- 1 lb. lump crab meat
- 1 8 0z package softened Philadelphia cream cheese (don’t use reduced fat!)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
- 2 tablespoons white horseradish
- Old Bay seasoning to taste
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Combine lump crab meat and softened cream cheese in bowl. Mix together until crab meat is dispersed throughout.
- Add in chopped onions and horseradish. (Cut down horseradish to make dip less spicy).
- Place in oven-safe dish and back for approximately 25-30 minutes. Don’t take dip out of oven until crab.cheese mixture is virtually bubbling.
- Sprinkle top with Old Bay seasoning.
- Serve hot on crostini or crackers with bland taste.