Tag Archives: maryland

crabs

is there anything more symbolic of summer on the chesapeake than crabs?  i certainly can’t think of anything, and considering how much i have been eating this trip i can feel my mercury level or what ever other toxin that crab accumulate rising in my body.  it is surly worth it, if only for my attachment to tradition than to the actual flavor.  but oh what a flavor.

a crab

picking crabs

my family met up with ma’s family and we all had a good time sitting around the table eating crabs.  for those not familiar with the tradition big piles of crabs are dumped on the middle of a table covered in craft paper.  then using mallets and knives the crabs are disemboweled and the meat removed and eaten.  one crab is hardly enough to fill a person up – and i think i at 3 or 4, which would hardly have impressed my teen self as i’m pretty certain i could eat at least a dozen.  but it’s quality not quality that counts, and these were by far some of the best crabs i have consumed (all thanks to ma’s brother david), and i had other things to eat beside crabs, namely corn.  we had acquired corn from greenbranch farm and it was great.  crabs, corn and beer the great maryland tradition.

the upper ferry

more dispatches from the homeland  – and specifically the oddities of the westside

no one from the eastern shore seems to think much of the ferry system we have, there are several small ferries that cross various rivers throughout the area, 2 happen to be in wicomico county where i’m from and the upper ferry is the one i would often take to get to friends houses and cut out time in a trip.

in most places they would have long since added a bridge, but that does have the disadvantage of costing money, putting the ferry operater out of a job, and getting in the way of barge traffic.  as they say – if it an’t broke, why fix it.  while in college i would often take friends from out of town to see this little quaint slice of country living.  they always seemed shocked, and i took great delight in this shock.  i felt part of my role in being from the area was to act as a tour guide to the local scene.

the upper ferry seen from the shore

from this view you can see the ferry approaching with a mini van on it, and the operator booth on the left.  this is the upper ferry which is the smaller of the 2 ferries, it fits 2 cars, and only takes about 5 minutes to cross.  the other ferry over the wicomico is at whitehaven which is big enough for 3 and takes more like 10 minutes.

the view looking over the side of the ferry

a view looking over the side of the ferry

view looking out the front of the ferry

and a view looking out the front.  i always hoped to get the front position so i could pretend my car was amphibious.  i used to use the ferry as a short cut to ride my bike to friends’s houses that were on the westside.  i love the ferry

the westside

more of the back story, this is part 2.

the area of wicomico county to the west of route 50, north of the wicomico river, and south of the nanticoke river is generally refered to as “the westside”.  for the last couple years before leaving the eastern shore this is where ma and i made our home.  full of tiny fishing and farming communities, it is about as far away from the pace and lifestyle of detroit as you could get.  even though it is in same county it is also pretty different from the small town i grew up in, it was an adjustment for me to move there.

jay’s farm is located in bivalve, named after the product its fortune was built upon.  no one ever seems to belive me that it is the actual name of the place, and so, I took this photo of the village’s sign.

the sign for the village of bivalve coming into town

in addition to working in bivalve on jay’s farm i also used to live in a camper back behind his barn for about a year.  ma lived in a neighboring village of tyaskin.

downtown tyaskin

tyaskin, like bivalve is little more than a collection of houses, it does however have what it is able to hold over the other head of all the other towns on the westside: a bar.  i think i went there twice, as we had no money.

i particularly love the purple house with its huge sleeper porch, and of course the fact that it is located next to a bright pink house doesn’t hurt.  the small pink building is the old post office, the new post office is now just across the street.  tyaskin’s total population can’t exceed 100.

the house we used to live in

above is the house ma and i used to live in.  i should stop right now and point out that this is what the house looks like right now, this is not what is looked like over 7 years ago when we lived in it.  since then it’s been raised up about 4 feet, had a foundation laid under it, all the windows replaced, new porch, roof replaced, and a paint job, and that’s just the outside, i can’t imagine what they have done to the inside.  it pretty much doesn’t look anything like the house we lived in.  it was a cool house, but it was completely run down, when we lived there.

how much you want to know about the history of ma and i, i don’t know, but seems i’m gonna give you at least a little.  ma and i both went to the same school, both studied art, both had the same glass blowing professor.  but we were separated by a few years, and never met, likely for the best, we both needed to work things out.  our old professor used to live in the house you see above. i had spent plenty of evenings out at bonfires there hanging out.

after i moved into the trailer behind jay’s barn i spent some time just hanging out with myself.  i was coming out of a long relationship and felt it good to focus on myself,  that combined with the fact that i was exhausted from 12 hour farm days, ment i wasn’t going to go out and look for company.

when i did come out of my self imposed hiatus i went to visit my old professor.  he wasn’t there, he had moved out, but ma was, and we hit it off.  i want to thank my former professor for moving out, i might never have met ma otherwise.

things move fast, and before you know it i had moved out of the camper and into ma’s house in tyaskin.  she needed someone else to pay rent and i needed someplace with heat – as that in the camper wasn’t working.  and i was also spending every waking hour of the day that i could with ma so it only made sense that we live together.  i don’t want to make it seem like this was just a decision of economics, as it was all about the love.

life in tyaskin was good, we were only a few blocks from the naticoke river, taking nightly walks to look at the water. it was quiet and pretty simple.

the view from off the dock in tyaskin

i’ve often thought the eastern shore of maryland should be called the land where the sky becomes the water, the sight off the coast often looking more like a gehrald richter painting than a real waterscape.  i loved living in tyaskin in many ways, but both ma and i needed a change, and certainly detroit was a change.

jay’s place

a little back story over the next couple days, as i visited some sites formative to the adventure we are on.

a trip to the eastern shore is incomplete without a trip to see my mentor and friend jay.  i spent a couple of seasons working for him, first at his greenhouse operation and market garden, then helping to take down and move his greenhouses, and start up a csa.  i can’t say enough good things about jay, he is one of the most innovative farmers i know, has  a huge caring heart, really has a gift with words (as his wife kathy once said, he didn’t kiss the blarney stone, he ate it), and is well read and research on all aspects of sustainable agriculture.  i feel lucky to have been able to spend the time i did with him, learning so much about myself and farming.  even though i’ve never had any formal education in agriculture i feel as though i’m about as well educated as those that have been to formal programs.  i can count one hand the people who truly changed me as a person, and jay is certainly among them.

jay is not without his difficulties and few have made it though a full season working with him, he can be irritable, impatient, stubborn, and downright mean at times.  but he is fully aware of these things, and i genuinely think he works to reduce these traits in himself, many would just accept themselves and move on.

aside from the need to check in and chat, a trip to his farm is always worth it to see what new innovations jay has been adding to his repertoire.

mobile chicken coop

this guy is a mobile chicken pen which jay claims costs about 200 dollars and takes under a day to build.  it can support up to 50 meat birds, not seen in this picture is the tarping that goes over half of the structure to give the chickens shade and shelter from the rain, the waterer and the feeders.  it could be moved by one or two people or with a tractor, as jay does.  it seemed to me that if you just threw some plastic overtop of these they could become a pretty simple greenhouse, and if you had doors on either end, you could link them all together.  the chickens that jay had been using for forage go under several names, but the most common was the red ranger, pretty good foragers and come to weight relatively well.  this last year he has grown and processed 700 birds, and plans to continue expanding that, planting pasture out in the fields for him to forage.  he can’t keep up with demand for them, it seems it will be some time before the market is saturated with free range meats.

jay had also constructed this yurt.

a yurt

i didn’t think i’d be posting so soon again about a yurt.  this guy is much bigger than the one we stayed in, 24 feet across, and at least 12 feet high, and was manufactured by blue ridge yurts.  jay’s brother in law bob was staying in this along with his dogs.  it was being wired for electric, internet, shower, and a composting toilet.  this yurt also housed a secret.

a root cellar under the yurt

around the back dug out of the side of the hill is a root cellar.

inside the root cellar

the root cellar is full of sweet potatoes right now.  the eastern shore summers are pretty much miserable, hot, extremely humid and full of all kinds of biting insects.  with this knowledge and experience he is focusing on trying to farm more on the winter harvest and less on the summer.  between high tunnels, quick hoops, greenhouse, and the root cellar he can focus on the time that is more comfortable to farm, and the time when the market has less competition. to learn more about the csa jay is a part of check out this website.   here is one last view of the farm showing the high tunnel, the propagation greenhouse,  and chickens.  the market gardens are planted to the right of the high tunnel and the main acreage is over the ridge to the left of the propagation greenhouse.

greenhouse on the left, chickens in the middle, high tunnel on the right

soft crabs

a real joy for me growing up was the soft shell crab sandwich.  certainly it was a delight to eat, but it also grossed out my sister, something about those legs dangling out from under the slices of bread was too much for her.  for those unfamiliar with the soft shell crab, it is a crab which you eat the whole thing, shell and all.  crabs shells don’t grow bigger, they must shed the old shell and then grow a new one.  for a couple of days they have a soft shell before it fully hardens, during this time they can be eaten shell and all.

ma’s father mr. bill knows our love of the soft shell crab sandwich and had made preparations for our arrival by throwing a few in the freezer in july when they were plentiful.  since many of our midwestern friends and people across the nation seem unfamiliar with softshell crab i felt a documentation of the cooking was in order.

step 1. thaw and drain the crabs

the thawed crabs draining

this crucial step could have been missed by anyone less attentive to detail than mr. bill.  these crabs have also been cleaned, the eyes and mouth have been cut off, and the lungs or gills aka the dead mans fingers have been removed before they were frozen. the crabs get thawed in cold water and then drained for about a half hour.  draining the crabs keeps them from being too wet and makes them fry up nicely.

step 2. dusting with flour

the crabs dusted with flour

flour with salt and pepper are put in a bag and then the crabs are placed in the bag and dusted very gently, you don’t want to shake them as it will break the delicate crab.  mr bill used an official seafood flour, i think it might have some corn starch in it too.

step 3. frying

the crabs fried up

you don’t want to mess with these too much as the crabs are delicate, not flipping back and forth, back and forth, you just want one flip, and then out of the pan.  in order to do this the pan needs to be heated up well before the crabs are added, medium heat with a good amount of oil in the pan.  the crabs get cooked briefly on each side, no more that 5 minutes on each side, till golden brown.

the classic sandwich is served on white bread, perhaps with cocktail sauce or tarter, or even ketchup.  i opted for just eating them plan with a little cocktail sauce, and nothing else.  they were as always delicious, sweet, briny with a little tangy bite from the “mustard” or the hepatopancrea – part of the crabs digestive system.  over dinner mr. bill, who spent several summers commercial crabbing explained in more detail the life cycle of the crab and the shedding of it’s shell, explaining the difference between “busters”, “peelers” and “paperskins”, fascinating.

snow on the eastern shore

ma and i are both from the eastern shore of maryland, she from centreville and i from salisbury, though her parents now reside closer to greensboro.  detroit is now home, but the eastern shore will always be our homeland.  maryland never gets as much snow as michigan, but when it does get a good snow it gets dumped on.  this trip home, 16 inches at ma’s parents house.  still we wanted to get out of the house, and we felt like a walk in the snow would be fun, so we headed for the adkins arboretum at tuckahoe state park.  we had ventured there before, seeing an impressive crop of skunk cabbage, a particularly interesting plant to me for its ablity to generate heat and create massive root systems,  and thought it would be a good place to go back to.

ma up to her knees in snow

turned out hiking though 16 inch snow is hard, hard work, and about a mile and some change took us almost and hour, and left us plenty tired.

stream flowing though snow

we traveled across bridges, and streams, and it was all quiet and lovely and i was stripped down to a sweat shirt by the time we got back to the end of the trail.  the forests of the eastern shore are beautiful, with lovely tulip poplars, paw paws and river birch being some highlights for me.

silks with writing on them in the woods

as part of an art exhibit giant silk streamers flowed though the forest with chinese calligraphy on then, i didn’t have a chance to read what the translation was.  at the arboretum book store i was able to pick up a book about american chestnuts that i’d never seen.  very exciting.