Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pickin' and Starvin'

The Eastpointer

Pickin' and Starving

By Richard E. Noble

As oystermen, we had all the oysters that we wanted to eat. We also had plenty of fish caught while out on the bar oystering. We had stone crabs once or twice a month that I received in trade for helping to load/unload a late night truck at the campsite. We caught mullet with Carol's cast nets and we bought shrimp wholesale occasionally from a bay shrimper unloading at the dock. But the bay was also loaded with Blue Crabs and we wanted to try those also. The picked and packaged Blue Crab meat, shredded or lump, was very expensive. Everybody told us to pick up a few crab traps and just toss them overboard on our way out to the oyster beds in the morning.
We stopped in Panacea to check the price on some new crab traps. There was a fellow who made the traps and had stacks of them displayed in front of his shop on highway 98. But new crab traps were out of the question. They were too expensive for us. It is the same with fishing poles – it takes a lot of catfish to pay for one hand wrapped, graphite rod and Penn reel.
We noticed that there were always a few crabs traps buried in the sand that had washed up on the beach after bad weather. They were usually bent, bashed and damaged and the crabbers didn’t want them. We picked up a half dozen and patched them by tying in some old wire here and there. We bought some large Styrofoam bobbers and a little rope and we were in business.
We baited them with chicken necks and fish heads and tossed them overboard as we had been instructed. It took two or three days to accumulate any amount of crabs, but finally there we were back at the “mansion” boiling up a large pot full of Blue Crabs.
We covered the table with newspapers, drained the crabs and dumped them in the middle of the table. We started in grinin’ and pickin’.
About two or three hours later we had exhausted ourselves. We picked our last crab. The crab meat that we had salvaged from the crabs was delicious - sweet and tasty - but we were still starving. It seemed to us that the crab meat that was gained from picking was hardly enough to replace the energy that it took to pick the crabs in the first place.
We wrote it all off to inexperience and tried again a few more times. It was always the same. After an evening of pickin’ and grinin’ we had to fry up some hamburgers or boil up some hot dogs in order to get our bellies full.
We discussed the situation and opted for a new system. When we brought in a batch of crabs we would first eat our supper and then put the crabs to boil. Later in the evening, while we watched the TV with our full bellies we picked the crabs and put all the meat into a Tupperware container. It only took a few pickin’ sessions to have a good serving of crab meat in the refrigerator.
The first time we simply heated the meat, melted some butter, and with the addition of some Saltine crackers and a beer we had a real nice time. After awhile we started experimenting with our own crab cakes, crab cocktails, Crab AuGratin, Crab Imperial with capers, deviled crab and plain old crab salad.
I suppose if we had added up all the time in harvesting, pickin’ and grinin’ it might have been cheaper to buy the crab meat downtown. But with our income that option was not available. Besides, this was a part of the fisherman's way of life and that is what we aspired to be - fishermen. It really wasn't work it was fun - and when it did become work we could quit and find something else to do.
Eventually we did give up the crab pickin’ because we had too many other seafood delights that were easier and more fun to get. And the stored crab meat in our opinion never quite matched up to the sweetness of the fresh picked crab. It was a sort of Catch 22 situation. It was a lose-lose situation.
Today whenever we see a restaurant ad boasting all the blue crab that you can eat, we just smile. We aren't going to fall for that one. A person could literally starve to death attempting to satisfy a hard earned hunger by picking his fill of blue crabs.

The Eastpointer, a selection of columns from the Franklin Chronicle, is Richard Noble latest publication. It is now for sale on Richard Noble is a freelance writer and has been a resident of Eastpoint for 30 years. If you would like to stock any of his books in your store or business email Richard at