Dad loved crabbing. I asked him to take me out years ago and he said he’d never been before. I was so sure that I went crabbing with him as a child. So much for relying on memory! He really enjoyed it and I did not like it at all! I was suddenly terrified of those nasty little nippers. Dad, of course, admonished me for being so childish in spite of the fact I was now an adult. The privilege of being a parent; your children are always your children. That is unless you read Kahlil Gibran:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, they belong not to you…..”
It is a beautiful poem and if you want to read more Google it. However, in no time dad had got quite a feed. Dad became a regular at the crabbing spots and soon he knew of all the best spots to find his blue Swimmers.
As the years passed his collection of rakes and barrows improved. He made them himself of course. The Gospel according to dad: “If you want something done properly you have to do it yourself.” Dad was always making bespoke tools whether it was for crabbing, maintenance or for his music. He had a brilliant crab trolley and about three decent sized rakes. He would wade out into waist deep water and it would freak mum out. She always thought a great white shark was going to come along and take him.
Dad transported the crabs’ home in his trolley, which had sea water in it. (This kept them nice and fresh) He cranked up the gas fire, cook the crabs in salted water and immersed them in an icy slush as soon as they were done. All of this took place in the shed. The beer fridge was, very conveniently, in the shed. Dad enjoyed the whole process a lot more when Johann, my husband, or his son Roy joined him on his crabbing expeditions. Johann remembers hearing dad’s profanities across the water when he stumbled or more importantly let the big one get away. One profanity in particular that my son could not get over was, “It’s enough to put pimples on your penis.” Dear dad was seriously ticked off about something and we’d be trying really hard not to laugh.
There were many regrets all round when we left South Australia for life in the Northern Territory., some 3000 kilometres away. Johann missed those precious times with dad and Jakob, who was only nine when we left, never got the chance to have too much man to man time with his grandfather.
Every year for his birthday dad would venture out to collect crabs, cook them, meat them and invite his neighbours and another couple of friends over for birthday crab and Southwark beer.
My dad had always been very generous. It takes a lot of time to meat a crab and you can be certain there was not a skerrick left in his crab shells. A visit from dad often meant a parcel of frozen crab brought with him .And not just a taste either; some of those containers would have 6-8 crabs in them, all cooked to perfection and meated.
After all that trouble and precision dad would insist upon drowning his crabs in either ‘thousand Island Dressing’ or vinegar, both of which I loathe. “Oh Jane, you don’t know what you are missing! It’s delicious.” I prefer the beautiful flavour of crab and would add nothing. Like fish, that ubiquitous bloody lemon, can’t stand it. I love the taste of my food and have never added dressings, even on salad. I can’t stand salad dressing. I will eat mayonnaise in a coleslaw, potato or rice salad but that’s about all. My mother’s mayonnaise is better than bought stuff but I’m afraid to say I’m too lazy to make it myself.
I do make a sour ‘cream’ style dressing using silken tofu. Blend the silken tofu with vinegar, black pepper and sometimes crushed garlic. It is really nice and not as filling as sour cream and a great vegan option. You can use silken tofu, as above, add capsicum and a hint of mustard and use instead of mayonnaise on coleslaw or potato salad.
In 2000 I was working in a remote Aboriginal community in the NT. The Nurse Manager asked me if I would like to go mud crabbing with her and an Aboriginal family. I was a bit dubious but thought it would be a bit of an adventure.
We drove some distance to her favourite crabbing spot. The younger members of the family stayed on the beach to light the fire. (Always confident about catching something out here.) I traipse alongside *Anne as we enter the mangroves. My nerves begin to rattle somewhat because it is well known that crocs love mangrove areas too and I am sinking into the dirty sand. Anne has her big stick and starts poking in holes that I can barely see in spite of her pointing them out to me. This could be because my eyes are darting around looking for crocs rather than looking down searching for crab holes. The idea was Anne would go one way and I would go in the other direction. Uh uh, I am staying close to you like a shadow. When one sees the said hole one has to poke the stick in the hole and move the stick around. The crab will get cranky at the intrusion and pop up. Mud crabs are huge and when an angry mud crab ‘pops up’ it is a frightful sight. The crab edges back with claws splayed open in readiness for attack. Anne grabs the crab, pierces the respiratory area for instant death and moves on to the next hole. Meanwhile, I think I am about to faint and trying desperately hard to pretend I am having the cultural experience of my life. I look over to the family at the beach but too scared to wade through the muddy sand to get to them. I choose to stick with Anne a while longer and hope she is too busy hunting to notice how queasy I am feeling.
However, all’s well that ends well. Without a doubt, the best mud crab I have ever eaten. To cook: the body is buried under the hot stones in the fire and the legs are placed on top. Roasted crab, scrumptious! The shells broke with a mere gentle tap, no need for pliers to break open the shell. It truly was melt in your mouth delicious. And guess what? No sign of lemon or Thousand Island dressing. Ever since that day I have wanted an earth oven in my yard but yet to build one.
Chilli crab is extremely popular in Darwin and I have a friend who has this as her signature dish. She loves to go fishing and crabbing. When she’s in luck with a muddy, chilli crab is on the menu. You will find the recipe in the recipe section of Chooroo.com
Dad’s last Father’s day was in Darwin and he celebrated the day with Johann. Jakob and Johann cooked up a seafood feast. We enjoyed scampi, garfish (mum’s favourite) scallops, mussels and the mud crab was the pièce de résistance. Dad’s eyes bulged when we placed the biggest mud crab we could buy in the middle of the table. He could not believe the feast laid out before him. Unfortunately we cannot get Southwark Bitter in Darwin so that was the only thing missing from the ultimate meal.
All the food was served with a crusty loaf and a tossed salad (with no dressing).
Dad will be remembered for many wonderful things, and his love for catching a feed of crabs and sharing them with family and friends will be one of them. It is his birthday this month and for the first time in many years there will be no crab on the menu.
*Not her real name