Food

Maryland is For Crabs

The Official State Crustacean

By
Susan
Elnicki Wade

For most Marylanders, picking crabs is an essential summer ritual. This deep-rooted Chesapeake tradition starts when they are young. It's common to see toddlers with a bib and wooden mallet squeal with delight when their parents cover the backyard picnic table with steamed crabs. Maryland wedding couples often design special nuptial crab mallets embossed with the bride and groom's names. And in 1989, the Maryland crab was designated the official state crustacean.

Fortunately for the rest of us, everyone is welcome to share the Maryland crab feast experience. To help newcomers navigate their first dozen steamed crabs, locals offer the following pearls of wisdom to get your crabitude going amid the mounds of shells.

What you are eating?

Chesapeake Bay crabs belong to the species Callinectes sapidus, which is Latin for beautiful swimmer that is savory. They can grow to about 9 inches, but waterman must toss them back if they're less than 5 inches across their shells. If you see True Blue on the menu, then the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has certified that you're getting the real deal and the restaurant is only serving local crabs, instead of imports from other regions or countries.

Where do they come from?

This species originated in the Caribbean, swims in waters from Argentina to Nova Scotia and is fond of moderate climates in the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Good news from Virginia's Marine Resources Commission: Its latest survey of the Chesapeake crab population reports that their head count is up from a dangerously low 68.5 million in 2014 to 101 million Bay crabs this year.

How can you tell them apart?

It's actually pretty easy. The males are called Jimmies, and when you flip them on their backs, you see an apron shaped like the Washington monument. Females, named Sooks, have a wider apron that looks like the U.S. Capitol Dome. Lady Sooks claws have a red tip as if she just painted her nails. Jimmies are more likely to appear at your table, because the Bay needs Sooks to reproduce.

How are they cooked?

Blue crabs are placed pinching and kicking into steamer pots for about 25 minutes and emerge with a glowing red-orange color. Heavy doses of Old Bay, J.O. or special house seasonings are poured on top. Purists keep it simple, cooking just the crabs and the spices. Others cover their crustaceans with corn on the cob, potatoes or even sausage. No matter how they're prepared, you can't wait to dig into a dozen of Maryland crabs. Cold beer and Orange Crushes are highly recommended.

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2 oz Irish Whiskey

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Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add whiskey, Blue Curaçao and orange juice. Stir well and garnish with a fresh orange wedge.

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The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.

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THE SPY WHO LOVED JAMAICA

James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.

STIR IT UP

Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye

GOLDENEYE COCKTAIL

INGREDIENTS:

-1 part Blackwell Rum

-1 part pineapple juice

-Lime or pineapple wedge

INSTRUCTIONS:

Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye

TOASTY TODDY

INGREDIENTS:

-3 parts Blackwell Rum

-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water

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Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

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