The Crab Feasts of Summer

Vol. 8, No. 32
Aug. 10-16, 2000
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Annapolis Rotary Crab Feast
Story & photos by M.L. Faunce

Billed as the "World's Largest Crab Feast," the annual Annapolis Rotary Club event last week was all that and more. Kathy Allan of Bay Ridge calls it a "huge block party that everybody comes to." Allan has been coming for the crabs and camaraderie for over 25 years, bringing her children in the earlier years. Now she eats crabs and "sees the same people year after year like a big reunion" while husband Scott, a Rotarian, volunteers his time.

For 55 years, this big block party under the grandstand of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium has been considered the definitive summer event for Annapolitans. Local politicians, including Rotarian Mayor Dean Johnson and Del. Michael Busch, rubbed elbows with local citizens as all devoured steaming #1 crabs, corn on the cob, crab soup, barbecue and hot dogs.

Not everyone is local, not even the crabs, which this year came the farthest, brought in fresh from Louisiana and steamed in huge vats at the stadium.

Regulars Marge and Roger Livas of Heritage Harbor brought friends George and Jackie Nickel visiting from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The quartet of proper seniors enjoyed "getting down and dirty," in Marge Livas' words, with the serious work of picking crabs. "Eating crabs is a little savage," she said. "Maybe that's why we like it so much."

There was a little savage in everyone at the Rotary feast, each with their own way of attacking the object of their crustaceous delight. Some, like Lou Ann Hill of Annapolis, were a little more delicate. She picked her crabs first, reserving the large pile of meat for later eating with butter and J.O., the 'other' crab seasoning. Hill, who recently moved here from Beltsville, finds her new home "very friendly." She came alone but soon made new friends, cracking crabs elbow to elbow at mile-long tables.

Rotarians Tom Tilghman and Donald Taylor poured buckets of beer from the 45 kegs on hand, helping loosen up the Friday afterwork crowd intent on good times and hot crabs. The good times support good works by the Annapolis club, which donates all the funds raised to "make our community a better place to live and raise our families." Tilghman and Taylor have been pouring refreshments for some 30 years at the annual crab feast. Both live and were born in Annapolis; "very unusual," they said without spilling a drop.

Not everyone came to eat and drink. Carrying black plastic trash bags, Stephanie Whitlaw, of Hanover, approached tables and politely asked feasters if she could have their crab shells. Once a hobby, "Crab Creations" are now Whitlaw's business: She hand-paints crab shells for Christmas ornaments. Usually she collects her shells after they've gone from her husband's trotlines to home feasts for friends. All in good fun, no one refused Whitlaw's request, but few wanted to think about how she would get her fragrant booty home.

Some festival-goers came for crabs but didn't eat them. The plate in front of Deborah Menke was piled not with crabs but hot dogs and barbecue. "I love crabs," she explained, "but if I pick, I can't play with my grandbaby." Sitting in a stroller playing with a wooden crab mallet, baby Benjamin Bockmann, who traveled south from New Jersey with his parents, seemed oblivious of grandma's venial sin in the midst of mounds of crab manna.

Most everybody made up for the few who abstained. Kids proved they were no slouches, eating their age and more in crabs. Jarrett Nicolson, 12, counted 20 crabs. Jarrett, who knows his crabs, says he catches them "all the time on our dock. Usually you want to catch the big males."

Right in the competition, Alex Nicholson, 9, managed to eat 20 crabs as well, then licked his lips and pronounced them "terrific." Trevor Siebert, 9, said he "ate a lot," scarfing down 13. Case Sutton, 12, ate 15 and, to prove his expertise, added that he's "been crabbing for four years." Nine-year-old Jake Engleman, looking a little peaked, admitted that he hadn't eaten any crabs, that he "sort of" liked them but had a stomachache that day. All from Annapolis, the boys shared a table with their mothers while keeping count.

Keeping up with the appetites of these kids and some 2,500 other crab lovers were legions of Rotarians and volunteers, who dished up a feast that was a pure slice of summer. Cooking up some 360 bushels of crabs supplied by Shoreline Seafood, men stood in a sea of steam for hours, their performance as perfect as the crabs they served up. Adam's Ribs made certain that turf was there right beside the surf, donating 1800 hot dogs and 150 pounds of beef barbecue.

Corn on the cob topped each tray, a staggering 3,600 ears in all. Lined up they could have circled the stadium three times. At least that's what one corn-carrying volunteer said.

Squeezed in between thunderstorms, the 55th annual Annapolis Rotary Club Crab Feast was the place to be August 4, a big block party where you could eat your fill, meet and greet old friends and new and help Rotarians do what they do best - serve their community. If anyone left hungry or without their prized wooden crab mallets, there's always next year. Then, once again, the Annapolis Rotarians will be asking themselves the same questions that drive their mission in life: "Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?"

Twenty-five hundred satisfied crab-eaters will undoubtedly say yes.

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Annual Crab Days …

… is crab culture for all the senses

story & photos by Kim Cammarata

At Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s annual Crab Days festival in St. Michaels last weekend, young and old feted the blue crab. Hungry crab lovers savored steamed crabs, crab cake sandwiches, crab soup, soft shell crab sandwiches — and more.

Huge vats of crabs were the only things steaming Saturday, thanks to a short respite from muggy air. Festival visitors took advantage of the clear skies and fresh breezes to linger and learn from outdoor exhibitors who shared various crabbing, maritime and culinary skills and stories.

Sharing of Chesapeake seafood culture is what makes Crab Days special for Kevin Davidson, a Cambridge native displaying his personal collection of crab memorabilia on the porch of the Small Boat Shed.

“What I like best about this festival is meeting people and sharing my collection with them,” said Davidson.

His vast collection encompasses items from regional crab packing companies, including 200 vintage crab meat cans, company letterheads and correspondence and trade cards with elaborate pictures.

Some of Davidson’s items offer a glimpse of Bay economics from decades past, such as dozens of different tokens that packing houses once gave to crab pickers. One token equaled one pound of meat, and the tokens were as good as money to shopkeepers in company towns. A 1932 listing of Bay seafood prices reveals a pound of jumbo lump meat once fetched 28 cents wholesale. A 1955 company ledger shows that Syble Parker picked 106 pounds of meat in three days, earning $18.06 for her efforts.

Nearby, professional crab pickers told of their experiences in the crabbing industry. Afterwards a crowd of recreational crab pickers watched in envious amazement as the professionals demonstrated the right way to remove precious meat from a blue crab.

Across the way, noses quivered and mouths watered as John Shields, Chesapeake Bay cookbook author and host of public TV’s Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields, prepared crab dishes. Shields signed cookbooks afterwards, as did fellow cookbook author and homegrown crab expert Whitey Schmidt.

Other exhibitors demonstrated knot tying and dip net and crab pot making.

Sharing the stage with the blue crab were the museum’s regular exhibits, including Hooper Strait Lighthouse, lots of historic watercraft and the interactive Waterman’s Wharf, where visitors can haul up crab pots, try their hand at chicken-necking, watch crabs shed their shells and more.

These regular features drew Annapolitan Cathy Cresswell to Crab Days. A museum member, Cresswell boated to St. Michaels with her husband, nephew and two black Labs to see the permanent exhibits.

“The lighthouse is the biggest draw for us. We also enjoy the boat reconstruction and seeing the wooden crafts,” said Cresswell. “Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is a real asset to the area.”

Still More Chances: Upcoming Crab Feasts

  • 21st Annual Dorchester Seafood Feast: Aug. 12: 2-6 Sa @ Sailwinds Park, Cambridge: 410/228-3575.
  • Bayfest 2000: Aug. 19 & 20: Noon-8:30 Sa; noon-6:30 Su @ Boardwalk, North Beach: 301/855-6681.
  • 53rd National Hard Crab Derby & Fair: Sept. 1-3: 10-5 @ Somer Cove Marina, Crisfield: 410/968-2500.
  • 41st Annual Skipjack Race & Festival: Sept. 3 & 4: Noon-midnight Su; 9-6 M @ Deal Island Harbor, Deal Island: 800/521-9189.
  • 34th Annual Maryland Seafood Festival: Sept. 8-10: 11-8 @ Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis: 410/268-7682.
  • Old Bay Crab Soup Stakes: Wed. Oct. 4: Noon-2 @ Harborplace, Baltimore: 800/harbor-1.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly