A first good rain of the season usually signals the beginning of crabbing season, which meant a taste of Caymanian tradition was in the forecast at the Harry McCoy Sr. Park in Bodden Town on June 4.
Three steel rods, anchored by some huge 16-penny nails to an outside kitchen caboose, supported a pot of boiling land crabs flavored with local seasoning and Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, plantains, potatoes and green bananas covered with plantain leaves. Half a breadfruit wrapped in tinfoil and fresh sweet corn cooked on the coals below.
This was to be a feast for a group armed with spicy pickled peppers and onions in vinegar, fresh limes and cracking utensils, waiting in anticipation under the park huts.
“This is a lot of culture and tradition you see right here and a little rain won’t stop this crab feast,” said Emil Watler as he checked the pot of crabs.
His friend Rose Arnold pulled out her cellphone and began taking pictures.
“I am sending these to my daughter Areta in New Jersey,” she said, more than impressed with the abundance of crabs and local produce simmering over the coals.
Waiting for the crabs to turn a lighter color after 25 minutes, which would signify they were ready to eat, the group prepared the table by covering it with green thatch leaves and newspaper pages.
Savoring this delicious dish can be really messy; that is why most crab eating and picking is done outside. Having to crack or rip open a crab does not make for dainty dining, and sometimes teeth and bare hands are used when a mallet knife fails to do the work fast enough.
This is also the time crab stories are told of the big one that got away, new recipes shared and the one that lost its “pincher” on someone’s finger or toe.
“I have to get glasses before I go crab hunting the next year,” Mr. Watler said, laughing. Alice Mae Bodden said that’s because the crabs were running round his feet and he kept asking where were they were.
“Ummmm, the flesh of these black and also these red crabs is very sweet,” said Mr. Watler, doing his best to change the subject, dipping the meat into a plate of spicy pickled sauce and lime juice and popping it into his mouth.
“There’s just a few places in Cayman these black crabs can be found, Beach Bay and Manse Road … it’s hard to distinguish the male from the female in this lot,” he said, devouring another piece of crab.
To distinguish the male from the female in some land crabs, you will notice a triangular shape on the rear section of the bottom of the underside. The female has a broad, round marking, and the male has a triangular marking.
Crab aficionados know that ensuring females are not overcaught will keep the population from being depleted too much, but once in a while enjoying a female that has tasty eggs inside is not to be missed.
Crabs make their appearance between April and June and take to the streets from the back lands, making their way across the busy highways to the sea. Sometimes the crabs end up in people’s backyards and garages, but more often, they are squashed by cars while trying to cross the roads.
Crabs are mostly caught at night. To avoid capture, a crab will protect itself by putting up its two defensive claws. Before going crab hunting, crabbers cover themselves in lots of mosquito repellent and bring flashlights.
After the crabs are caught, a holding pen is set up and the crabs are fed on mangoes until they are ready for boiling.
Despite all the work that goes into catching them, crab lovers like Mr. Watler aren’t put off from landing this tasty seasonal delicacy.
“They can be a little bit intimidating when you see them, but people are usually just kind of excited when they go crab hunting,” he said.