A Story About Blue Crabs
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 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.
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.
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 crab 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.
And well before the river got so polluted the fish sprouted two heads. (Really.)
Calling the ferry, St. John River circa 1915
This post originally appeared on Pamela’s blog Spoon Feast.