Crabs and stock cars –

by

Back in 1950s my father worked at the General Motors plant in Doraville, GA. It was called the BOP – Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac were made there. My mother taught math at GA State University. It was convenient for them (and us kids) that the break between Summer and Fall quarters, the vacation my father could take, and the kids’ school break all lined up throughout the 50s. We would take off for vacation at that time every year. For a while we alternated between my mother’s sister in Mobile, Alabama and my godmother in Orlando, Florida. The trip was not too bad for the kids. My parents were pretty smart. We had a 1954 Chevrolet two door sedan, green with a white top. Other cars before that, but that is the one I remember best. I think it was the only new car my father ever bought. He got it at the GM employee discount. They would very carefully pack the back between the front seat and the back seat with suitcases, level with the back seat. Then padding, blankets and sheets would soften the platform. They kept my sister and me awake until it was time to leave. We would leave about midnight, and we kids would drop off almost immediately. The parents would drive through the night, alternating as necessary. You must remember, this was before the expressway system was built. It was all two-lane highways, maybe four-lane on occasion. You had to be very careful about speed traps near the smaller GA and AL towns. This I found out the hard way as a teen. 45 was 3 times the speed limit in some places. The kids would wake around eight or so, and we would arrive within a few hours. Less stress on parents and kids. I still get sleepy in a car if I’m not driving.

Herself Sez: He gets carsick, is what he gets. If he isn’t going to drive, I have to feed him Dramamine!

My aunt and uncle lived in a suburb of Mobile with the Indian name of Chickasaw, after the local tribe, Chickasha. Chickasaw is just about due north of Mobile, about 5 to 10 miles and was originally settled during the French period. We could always tell when we were getting close. There was a paper plant on the edge of town. Scott paper, I think. The inhabitants couldn’t smell it, which is typical of those who get used to a mill nearby.

My aunt’s husband was a Georgia Tech engineer who worked for a Mississippi barge company that freighted stuff from the headwaters in Minnesota down to the Gulf of Mexico. Other rivers connected the Mississippi to most of the Northern industrial states. I’m not sure exactly what his function was, probably something to do with load calculation or some such. I don’t think that my aunt worked. There were two cousins of the male persuasion, a year and 3 years older than I. The arrangement of houses was somewhat different, I don’t know if this was just in this neighborhood, or throughout Chickasaw. Anyway, the houses were completely reversed from the norm that we see here, houses face the street, back faces back. In that neighborhood, the houses faced each other, with a sidewalk running between front yards, and the back faced the streets. We would drive down to Mobile Bay, walk out on the piers and drop fishing lines and crab baskets into the Bay. The crabs were so easy to cook. Just put them in a pot of salted boiling water until they turn color. It’s probably easiest to just buy a commercial crab boil at the grocery, but if you want to roll your own, vary, add, subtract from the following base:

1/4 cup fennel seed
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup kosher salt

Mix up the spices thoroughly and wrap it in cheesecloth. This is called a garni bag if you like the French version. Anyway, just plop the crabs in, preferably still alive, after the water comes to a rolling boil. It only takes 3-4 minutes. When they turn color pull them out, crack the shells and dig out the meat. Good drawn butter is the best. To draw butter just put a few sticks in a small saucepan, boil it gently until all the milk solids separate out. Ladle out the clarified butter into heated dipping tubs. Good stuff. Don’t forget the claws, that’s some of the best meat. BTW – you don’t get much meat out of a crab, most of it at the leg to body joints. Don’t try to eat the lungs, the largish white things on the sides.

If you wind up with fish and maybe mussels or clams you can do a fish stew. Just boil the crabs or shrimp lightly, and shuck them, fillet the fish and cut it up in chunks. Sauté some garlic and onions in olive oil in a heavy dutch oven. Add:

a quart of water
1 cup wine
4 chopped tomatoes
4 chopped potatoes
fistful of chopped fresh parsley
spices to suit:

You can try a pinch of cloves
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp tarragon
about 10 to 20 grinds of fresh black pepper
add sweet red pepper flakes if you like.

Simmer all the ingredients for about an hour. Add any fish, the more variety, the better, and the shellfish. If you have clams or mussels, wait a couple of minutes before you add them. You don’t want to overcook. You want the fish to be done when the clams or mussels open. It takes in the neighborhood of 10 minutes for the fish. It takes about 5 minutes for clams. Add salt and pepper to taste. Easy on the salt until the end. If your shellfish are salt water, the liquor may add some salt as it mixes. Anyway, simmer for about 10 minutes or until the fish looks white and done and the clams are open. I like a good, strong garlic bread with this.

Garlic bread? Most people get a French loaf and bake it, slice it , and then try to run garlic butter down into the slices. There’s an easier way to get better bread: Smash several garlic cloves on your cutting board with the flat of the knife. Pull off any skin. Rough chop the garlic. Sauté it in a skillet with a good bit of butter, olive oil, or both. When the garlic gets soft start sautéing slices of a good rough bread until it is a light, golden brown on both sides. Add olive oil or butter and garlic as necessary so that each slice get a good coating. Greasy is better than dry. Now serve all this up with some fresh parsley garnish. I like some grated parmigiano reggiano (parmisean cheese) over the stew. Don’t use the canned crap. Get a small block of good, fresh cheese and a micro planer and do your own. Your taste buds will appreciate. Now you can fiddle with this to your every whim. Use beer instead of wine. Add any veggies that seem good. Different species of fish, different spicing. Do your own thing. There are no hard and fast rules, just enjoy.

Another activity that the men folk liked was the stock car races, this was in the early days of NASCAR, and stock car racing was just getting popular as an underground movement. NASCAR is really big business now. Enjoyed by millions, both men and women. Sometimes I think the women like it because the horribly loud noise and vibration, including subsonic, rattles their ovaries. I think the men like it because it rattles the women’s ovaries. I don’t like it because it hurts my ears. I may have worked in heavy chiller and boiler plants for too many years. Heavy bass hurts.

Another reason I just don’t care for it is that somewhere around 1955 we were watching the cars go around and around the oval when there was a truly horrible crash. One driver was killed, I think his name was Lamar Crabtree. Several others were injured. I just can’t watch a race and not get saddened by that man’s death. For those who do follow the races, I believe I remember that he was No. 3, same as Earnhardt. Anyway, I did drag race a bit when I was a teen – didn’t we all back then? But – I just cannot watch oval racing to this day. It was good to be a kid in the 50s.

Herself Sez: I can’t find a reference to a multi-car crash on a track in AL in 1955 or so. Searching for Lamar Crabtree I found one guy who drove at that time – and he died in 2003! Maybe it was a different Lamar Crabtree? I do try to keep Himself accurate in stuff like this. 🙂

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One Response to “Crabs and stock cars –”

  1. Suzanne Says:

    Wonderful memories! Do you remember the long, “handle” that hung on the back of the bench front seat of the car so that people in the back seat could grab ahold of it on curves? We, also, had many a ride down those curving, two-lane “highways” in June going to “the country” to visit Grandma and Grandpa. And the highways always took us in a cork-screw path up and over mountains (Appalachia). The view was great from up there. I wonder what kids of today will remember forty years from now? I can’t imagine. Don’t want to, either.

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