soft-shell blue crab with top shell removedIMG_2922

We love blue crabs for so many reasons. They’ve played a large part in providing a living for our family for several generations, we enjoy eating them and we’ve spent many years catching them for pleasure as well as commercially.

When we were kids, our summers were filled with the splendid pastime of pushing our way along the shore in a flat-bottomed skiff and scooping up the beautiful swimmers with a crab net. Not the most efficient way to catch them, but certainly one of the most fun. Hanging over the pier and looking for a Jimmy (adult male) and his wife (sook/adult female) clinging to a piling was another grand way to pass an afternoon. It’s called “cradle carrying” when the Jimmy protects his mate this way, but we called the great find a “Jimmy and his wife.” You always knew when a kid found them. You could hear the excited cry travel down the pier, “There’s a Jimmy and his wife.”


The ones with red tips are females.

My brother gave us a few dozen soft crabs or (soft-shell crabs) last week. You can tell the females by the red-tipped claws; the males have blue claws.

We started removing the top shell when my brother became allergic. He had two horrible experiences after eating them. His throat closed and he could not breathe and his lips and face swelled. He was rushed to the hospital. It was all very dramatic. His doctor told him never to eat them again. Did he listen? No. He started taking Benadryl before eating them until an old waterman told him to remove the top shell and he would be fine. When the crab is soft and vulnerable, it secretes a substance that is toxic to its predators. Some people are allergic to it. We all remove the top shell now, but it isn’t necessary unless you’re allergic.IMG_2926

the back of the crab

Their numbers are decreasing with each passing year. Chicken farming (at least 300 million chickens) on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is partially responsible. There certainly are other culprits, but agricultural runoff is the single largest source of pollution in the Bay. The chicken poop is rich in phosphorus and nitrogen (which cause algal blooms, which cause dead zones) and the rain washes the poop into the Chesapeake Bay.  I’m not going on a rant. Google ‘chicken poop’ and the Chesapeake Bay if you’re interested. Yes, I eat chicken, I like chicken, we need chickens, but there are ways to decrease waste runoff.

Anyway, I just wanted to show you my beautiful blue crabs. Their scientific name, Callinectes sapidus, means “savory beautiful swimmer.” It’s the perfect name. They are both savory and beautiful swimmers as they glide trough the water.

If you want to learn more about blue crabs, watermen and the Chesapeake Bay you may want to try William W. Warner’s Pulitzer Prize winning Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay. It was written when the Bay was much healthier, the Bay’s bounty was more abundant and watermen could still make a living in their industry.

Just toss them in some flour with a small amount of pancake flour (helps in browning) and a little salt.


Fry them in oil.IMG_2935

We always serve them with corn cakes.IMG_2958