Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Hearty Crab Supper.

June 26

Dorothy Wordsworth, the sister of the poet William Wordsworth, was a writer herself , although she confined her work to a private journal. On this day in 1828 she was in the Isle of Man, and wrote:

“ … Douglas harbour illuminated; … Joanna welcomed us with a dish of crabs sent by her kind friend Mrs. Putnam. Stars appearing at our return; after a hearty supper of crabs etc. retired to rest.”

Crabs are decapod crustaceans. They are also very good to eat, if you don’t mind shelling out the crab meat, or shelling-out for pre-shelled meat in a restaurant. For some reason that I cannot explain, my first thought on reading this journal entry was ‘What have crabs to do with crab apples?’.

Crab Apples are small, excruciatingly sour wild apples impossible to eat raw but fabulous for jam/jelly. Is the word in this context related to that of the fine animal that made Dorothy a fine supper? The origin, it has to be admitted, is uncertain. The OED gives two possibilities, one quite prosaic, one quite delightful. The first I interpret as a Viking inheritance – from the word skrabba, simply meaning fruit of the wild apple tree. I prefer the second – that it is related to crabbed or crabby, as we apply them to persons of ‘contradictory, perverse, and fractious disposition’ – which is reminiscent of the strange gait of that decapod crustacean that we call a crab.

If there is such a thing as linguistic terroir, then I think a modern chef of inventive mind should create a new dish incorporating both crab crustacean and crab apple - and invite me to be on the sampling panel. I can only offer separate recipes from the nineteenth century.

Hot Crab.
Pick the meat out of a crab, clear the shell from the head, then put the meat with a little nutmeg, salt, pepper, a bit of batter, crumbs of bread, and three spoonfuls of
vinegar, into the shell again, and set it before the fire. You may brown it with a salamander. Dry toast should be served to eat it upon.
A New System of Domestic Cookery: Formed Upon Principles of Economy … Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1814.

Crab-Apple Jelly.
Wash the fruit clean, put in a kettle, cover with water, and boil until thoroughly cooked. Then pour into a sieve, and let it drain. Do not press it through. For each pint of this liquor allow one pound of sugar. Boil for twenty minutes to half an hour.
Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book. Maria Parloa. 1882.

Tomorrow’s Story.

Macaroni, Unusual.

Quotation for the Day.

It was quite a challenge to make people eat crab ice cream. Heston Blumenthal


Anonymous said...

What is the "salamander" that the crab should be browned with? the slimy little guy shaped like a lizard? or what?

Jayne said...

Love crab meat but it's so fiddly to de-shell it (is that even a word?)that I drool a little as I waltz past the fish mongers and wave to the delicious crabs sitting in the window.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello KT
A salamander was a sort of flat metal thing like a heavy grill plate with a handle - it was heated and held over the dish to be browned.
Jayne - I hate the fiddle with crab meat!

Rochelle R. said...

I have pleasant memories of my Grandmother serving pickled crab apples at holiday dinners. I think they used to be a rather common garnish. This year I looked for them at the store but I guess they don't make them anymore.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Rochelle - I think pickled crab apples sound fabulous! I have pickled those miniature pears, and they were pretty good. Do you have your grandmother's recipe?