Let's Talk Food: Favorite crab recipe evokes memories of Low Country

Here in South Florida, eternal spring is cel­ebrated and enjoyed for most of the year.

For those in cold cli­mates, the end of winter and the arrival of spring mark the beginning of gentler days filled with promise.

Many of our winter visitors and residents will be heading north to their homes and regular­ly stop in the lovely and historic city, Charleston, S. C.

For it is in that region that spring is celebrated with much panache, rev­erence and beauty.

The spectacular gar­dens welcome the gentle warming of the earth with azaleas, magnolias, gardenias, roses, camel­lias and the state’s aro­matic flower, jasmine.

In the city known for its magnificent historic man­sions and gardens, the hospitable Charlestonians open their homes and gar­dens during spring.

Throughout the Low Country the restored plantations are also opened, allowing a glimpse of a life during antebellum days.

These historic land­marks have allowed Charleston to progress into the 21st century while carefully preserv­ing the past.

I lived in Charleston for several years and, al­though it has been a long time since my last visit, I cherish the influence the city and its residents had on my life.

My love of Southern food originated here and my appreciation of typi­cal regional dishes came from Charleston cooks and dishes.

After living in New Jersey, arriving in Charleston resulted in a severe culture shock. The architecture of the stately homes took me back to pre-Civil War days, and the entire city represented a living his­tory of a more genteel time.

But it was the food that awakened my imag­ination and inculcated in me an appreciation for the unique cuisine created by those coura­geous slaves, determined to preserve their culture. I lived with a family that had been in Charles­ton since the turn of the 20th century. The city is one of the few American cities that have achieved restoration without ru­ination and preservation without stagnation.

While many South­ern cities grew and de­stroyed relics of the past, Charlestonians stubbornly clung to their roots and all they repre­sented. And this included the traditional cuisine.

One of the most in­triguing and interesting cuisines in this country originated in Charles­ton and the surrounding Low Country. Recipes originated with the Gul­lahs, the slaves brought to Charleston during the 18th century.

Many cooks stirred the pots, many contrib­uting their own methods and the result is a bit of Creole, a modicum of French, lots of African influence and even a touch of English influ­ence.

Brought up on East­ern European food, it took me no time at all to switch my allegiance. I still cannot resist eating and cooking such dishes as tomato purlieu (com­monly known as red rice), grits enhanced by shrimp or cheese, hobatee (a mixture of minced or ground meat baked in a curry custard and served in custard cups), oysters and sweetbread in pastry shells, deviled crab, Huguenot Torte (a two-layer cake contain­ing chopped pecans and apples and topped with either whipped cream or syllabub.) It is an adventure to shop for food in Charles­ton. Every Monday morn­ing found me at the city’s public market for freshly caught blue crabs, just­-picked vegetables and other local specialties.

But best of all are my memories of awaken­ing on early mornings to the sound of melodi­ous church bells and the cries of street vendors selling shrimp, crabs and oysters as they sang out in Gullah, a patois of English and African dia­lects; “Better belly bus’ dan goode bittle spile.”

“It is better for your belly to burst than for you to let good food spoil” The waters around Charleston produced tiny shrimp, so sweet and toothsome, espe­cially freshly caught just before dawn and brought house to house by the fishermen-vendors. The shrimp were briefly steamed and served with grits that had been cook­ing for hours on the back of the stove.

The backwaters sur­rounding the city pro­duce succulent blue crabs, and I hadn’t been in Charleston very long before Jessie, the major domo in the kitchen, took me on a sojourn into the countryside.

We came prepared with scraps of meat pur­loined from our neigh­borhood butcher.

Within minutes of throwing out the simple lines holding the meat, the crabs took the bait and we took the crabs. After an hour, we had a bushel basket of the critters. It took hours to steam, clean the crabs and more time cleaning the kitchen and dispos­ing of the shells. Using a simple recipe, we pro­duced a crab dinner wor­thy of an emperor’s table. But it was worth it. Jessie taught me several splendid crab recipes and I’m sharing my favorite with the hope that sev­eral ambitious cooks will prepare a feast.

DEVILED CRABS

Serves 4 to 6.

INGREDIENTS

1 pound crabmeat

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

½ small onion or 2 or 3 chopped green onions (scallions) 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcester sauce

1 tablespoon water

1 egg

1 cup mayonnaise (I sug­gest Hellman’s or home­made) ½ cup dry sherry (I have also used dry vermouth) Dash Tabasco Buttered fresh crumbs

DIRECTIONS

1 Thoroughly combine all the ingredients and place in a well-buttered casserole.

2 Top with buttered bread crumbs, which have been made by adding crumbs to melted butter.

3 Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes or until light brown.

Doris Reynolds is the author of “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also avail­able is a four-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” Contact Doris Reyn­olds at foodlvr25@aol.com.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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