Making crab gumbo isn’t as easy as it used to be

Crabbing Florida State Archives

Years ago crabs were so plentiful in the Pensacola area that as a kid, author Charlie Davis and his brothers caught blue crabs in Bayou Texar in East Pensacola Heights by the dozens. They then sold the live crabs for 30 cents and 50 cents a dozen. I also heard of a man filling a galvanized wash tub with crabs when a Crab Jubilee occurred on Pensacola Beach. Whether the decline is caused by the oil spill, a virus or over-crabbing, blue crabs are no longer plentiful in the Florida Panhandle. PHOTO CREDIT: FLORIDA STATE ARCHIVES.

I love estate sales. They offer a wealth of writing inspiration. I’ve got an estate sale mystery in the works, but lately I’ve been buying small cookbooks that speak to my soul – and to my blog.

When I shop an estate sale, I make a quick reconnaissance spin through the entire house, and usually end up staring at a bookshelf, most often in the kitchen.  I’m drawn to club, school and church cookbooks  — you remember, the ones with the spiral black plastic bindings that come unwound.  I’ve learned to avoid cardboard boxes filled with clipped recipes. The silverfish make me draw back my hand pretty quick.

My best find recently is The Art of Catching & Cooking Crabs by Lynette L. WaltherLynette Walther Cookbook published in 1983. Yes, a book with a black plastic binding devoted to crabs somehow made its way from a bookstore in Delaware to a kitchen in the Florida Panhandle.  And every single recipe includes crab – sautéed, deviled, stuffed, boiled, steamed, fried. Or in appetizers, salads, sandwiches, bisques, crepes, soups or gumbos.  And, yes, even a crab mold made with Lemon Jell-O.

The first part of the book is a guide to building your own crab traps (she calls them crab pots, but in the South we call ‘em traps). Photographs show how to clean and cook a hard shell crab. She even includes a photo of a “crab knife,” and sure enough, I found one on Amazon. No need to seek out a beachside knifemaker.

My biggest trouble is finding the crabs. Where I live was first known as Town Point, and it was rich in crabs, even noted for its Town Point Crab Gumbo.  Several of my neighbors “crab,” but they say it’s not like it used to be. In fact, there used to be Crab Jubilees when the crabs were so thick they made their way on shore by the droves.  I’m still waiting to see this phenomenon or even catch a single crab in Florida. We save cookbooks by the case, but have yet to realize we need to save the crabs. Nowadays they are rare – my bold assumption is based on escalating crab prices at the seafood market and the absence of jubilees.

That’s why making one of Lynette’s gumbos might take me a while. I need to find a supplier for large, live crabs – not lump crab meat in a plastic container.  I’m torn, though, whether to make one of the gumbos or a pot of her mouth-watering, glorious, creamy rich She Crab Soup.



About thegumbodiaries

On the search for the perfect gumbo!
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