soft crab shells

        We are living in a different world than the generation before us and the generations before that. The once indelible four seasons tempo of nature’s order has been, for the main, turned a type of ‘evergreen’. One of the chief reasons for this is the success of overnight transportation systems. In the more insular world before we dealt with only the seasonality of latitudes as far south as Florida. Although there were, for a long time, certain exceptions of foods coming year round to our tables regardless of season. Despite the success of bananas and kiwis, which are blessed with the hardiness to travel far distances without fatal damage, things mostly came from within our own boundaries, as they also did for centuries in Europe and Asia.

        Trade now crisscrosses continents, and we buy a great deal of our foods from South America and even some from Australia where the seasons are the reverse of those here. Hothouse agribusiness has also made year round harvesting a facet of our modern times.

        Many chefs and home cooks don’t want to accept the change and I can’t blame them. It is an accord with nature that is being usurped, and while I cannot reverse progress, I can delight in the fact that some of the treasures of our table still come to us only in their own dance with time. They are the still wild children who defy man’s devices. Truffles, morels, spawning salmon are still some comestibles of this vanishing tribe. Another is the Soft Shell Crab.

        The poet T.S. Eliot called April the “cruelest month of all” as it “mixed memory with desire”. Each April I wait for the phone to ring and hear that mix of reverie and lust when I hear my crab guy tell me, “the soft shells are in!”

        Soft Shells refer to the precise moment in time when a blue crab has a growth spurt and literally “busts” out of its previous sized shell, increases by an astonishing 1/3 in size and begin to form another shell in what, one assumes, they trust will bring another year (Not if a commercial crab fisherman is at the ready for that magical moment!).

        But even humankind is not all alone in its enjoyment of the soft shell crab. The hard-shelled crabs will eat them if given half a chance. Ah…the rites of spring…the price of passage…the call of the wild.

        I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my word on food.

Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2002
*Works consulted: A.J. Mc Clane’s Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery