Summer. Crabs. Strong, blue claws. It’s a blue claw crab. It’s time for spaghetti and crabs.Make sure you know what time the tide will be in the rear bay the day before. The high tide times of a departing or incoming tide are required. We recommend incoming only. Crabs tend to show up with the tide. Raise the crab traps. Verify their stance. Put them in the trunk. Is everyone here? Get yourself down to the dockside bait shop. Frozen bunker weighing a pound. Then we went to a bulkhead at the harbor’s rear. There’s a debate about which inlet is superior. Sunset Bay has been chosen. Drive the vehicle up to the wall. Excavate the apparatus. Put bunker in each trap. The August warmth has melted the bunker in the time it takes to go from the bait shop to the bulkhead. Put a strong rope into the bunker’s eye and tie it to the basket’s bottom with a sharp knife. (By the way, a “bunker” is not somewhere you go to avoid combat. It is a kind of fish that’s head is used as bait but which is poisonous to humans. The incoming tide brings with it an abundance of tasty blue claw crabs. Down, down, into the secluded depths of the rear bay, the cargo hold and bunker go. The side flaps open as soon as the basket touches the floor. The bunker is connected in the middle. All four of the basket’s openings are set up and waiting for their prey. You’re resting on the island’s seawalls, which keep the bay at bay. Tar covers the wooden bulkhead. Tar melts in August heat, leaving a sticky residue on shoes and clothing. The scent of the tar as it melts is reminiscent of incense. The bite of a horsefly hurts. Not like the irritating sting of a mosquito, but a genuine bite. They leave quarter-sized welts. The wait is over. Patience. Patience. Then you have the impulse to “pull!” You reach for the rope. What you do is pull. The lids of the crab baskets snap shut. The basket keeps going up, up, and up. There you go. A fish is seen just below the surface. And when the soggy basket rotates around the wall, the answer is…… Look! It’s a crab!
Crabs of the same color, perhaps a spider crab covered with algae. These days, that’s pretty much always what you’ll see when you open your grocery cart. The Blue Claw, like many other species of seafood and crustaceans that previously thrived in South Jersey’s waterways, is now rare. It seems that nonnative, nonpalatable animals like the green crab have taken control. I also suspect the New Jersey sand bar islands’ extreme overcrowding has driven out their remaining native marine life. Just two hours of crabbing around the back bay would get you a dozen large blue claws fifty years ago.
I still use our baskets when I take my kids outside, that much is true. The custom of tarring one’s clothing and one’s feet before entering a bunker is still practiced. We expect to get practically nothing out of our crab baskets, however. We’ll have to take a trip to one of the nearby docks to stock up on crabs, which we may assume were caught by commercial crabbers in nearby Delaware or Maryland. These Blue Claw crabs are still alive and well, and they taste as good as ever. But they aren’t locals, and we were unable to capture them. But let’s not get hung up on the past. The origins of either the crabs or the pasta are unknown. The final product from this recipe won’t change.
When do you usually eat this? First, we pass around a damp towel to everyone at the table. A nice meal this is not. It’s a hands-on activity. Turn the pasta on its side. Then, reach out and grab a crab leg. Cut it in two with a crack. Put the half crab in your mouth and use your teeth to pull off the tasty white flesh. The claw is your next target. Position the middle of it between your teeth. Crack. Back off. There’s another sizable piece within. Repeat the process with the other little legs. You’ve probably gotten sauce all over your hands and face by now. The damp towel is necessary because of this.
A lighthearted aside for the little ones. The tendon that controls the claw will become visible after the claw has been dissected and the flesh removed. The claw may be opened and closed with a simple push and pull motion. We used to like playing a game where those pinchers would “bite” the air.