A story about blue crabs

St. Johns River, Florida

There was a time in my life when I lived on the St. Johns River, south of Jacksonville, FL in a small place named Switzerland.

We had a dock and a couple of boats and crab traps. The traps would get stuffed with chicken necks and then dropped in the river.

Most of the time, we could drop them right off the dock and get traps so full of blue crabs we couldn’t possibly eat them all.

So, we would build a bonfire on the riverbank, pull some coals to the side and place cast iron dutch kettles into the fire to

Maryland Blue Crab

boil water and then fill the pots with crabs, herbs, and seasoning, cover and put it back in the fiery coals to cook the crabs.

When they were cooked, the pot would be spilled all over the picnic table and another pot put into the fire.

Crabs for sale at the Maine Avenue Fish Market...

Friends, family, neighbors would all gather around, eat huge amounts of blue crab, drink beer, I think back then it was Rolling Rock and Heineken. It was great having everyone around talking, sometimes singing and having a great time.

1893 bird's eye view of Jacksonville, with ste...

1893 bird’s-eye view of Jacksonville, with steamboats moving throughout the St. Johns River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The families we were with at the time had actually settled the area in the mid to late 1800′s. There were stories of Reggie Moreman sailing down the St Johns to locate and settle the highest point on the river. There were stories of pirate ships sailing down the St Johns to Black Creek to fill water kegs with the tannin water for long voyages; stories of Indians and smoke on the banks across the river near Green Cove Springs.

Two families tried to tame the once wild river banks. One with potato farming and the other established some of the first orange groves in the state of Florida. They had docks that would load with oranges for shipping to anywhere. When the groves got frozen out, they moved to southern Florida to grow pineapples in what is now downtown Miami.

The Moremans stayed in Switzerland, Florida. When I was there, we still ran through the remnants of the groves plucking ripe fruit from the trees before the first frost. Most were sour oranges due to the base stock being sour, but there were still a couple of sweet trees.

The crabs always ran like this in the deep fall, or was it spring? I can’t recall exactly what time of year it was, other than it was chilly, the night air dry and crisp.

This is one of my favorite memories of living on the riverbank  and eating crabs in Switzerland, Florida.

Calling the ferry, St. John River, NB, 1915 (?)

And well before the river got so polluted the fish sprouted two heads. (Really.)

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11 thoughts on “A story about blue crabs

  1. My grandfather had a stucco house near the Orange Bowl in Miami when I was a boy. I was amazed at the variety of citrus trees in his yard and with the dangerous coconuts that fell from the trees outfront. The crab sounds wonderful.

  2. this was SOOO well-written. I think it should definitely be in your book. btw, how is it progressing? jealous of these wonderful, historical, memories. I grew up in central Rome in the 70′s. nothing as bucolic as your Swizerland :) but I do have memories of Red Brigades bombs… not quite the same as blue crabs fires, lol.

    • The book is coming along. My son is moving into his first apartment so I am focusing on a basic ‘how to cook’ theme.
      Switzerland was heavily populated with chiggers and alligators. When we swam, there was always a lookout for the gators that came out of the creek. Needless to say, you never swam alone.
      I grew up (high school years) in Tokyo. I still LOVE a big city!
      It would be interesting to hear your memories of Rome.

  3. Pingback: A Story about Blue Crabs // WFAEats

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