Sometimes the Best Lessons Come From Parents

One night of cracking crabs with dad taught one woman so much.



illustration by Michele Melcher

Not all lessons are taught in the classroom. Some are learned through experience—or a parent:

I won’t always be able to tie your shoes ... If you want to ride a bike like the other kids ... No one will want to play Monopoly with you if you don’t play by the rules.

For me, it was: If you want to eat Maryland blue crabs, you have to know how to do it yourself. The declaration came during my family’s yearly trip down the Shore with my aunt, uncle and two cousins. One night, most of the family went out to dinner, but my dad, cousin Danielle and I opted to bring Maryland blue crabs back to the condo.

A couple of 8-year-olds baked from days on the beach, we took our spots on the high-top stools while Dad emptied the brown bag of live crabs into the sink. We were the best students because we didn’t know we were being taught. Instead, we believed we were in on a secret. We knew about the sweet meat under the shell, and were smart enough to know that a crab cake wasn’t the same.

“The safest way to clean live crabs is to ice ’em so they’re stunned and won’t be able to nip ya,” Dad said. “But that’s not what I do.”

We propped our elbows on the counter to lean in closer. Dad’s method involved holding the crab down so its claws were pushed against the sink, giving him the chance to pull the tab and remove its back. He then cleaned the waste out until the only thing left was the crabmeat and the shell around it. After rinsing the crustaceans with cold water, he steamed them for 15 minutes.

It was our job to lay down the newspaper and get paper towels. But it was really a tactic to keep us from asking, “Are they ready yet?”

Dad placed one crab each in front of us, and we mirrored his movements. We broke the crab in half, pulled the claws off to save for last since they required crackers or a mallet, and got to “the best part”—the lump crabmeat.

“Gently,” Dad said. “You want to be eating crabmeat, not crab shells.”

Danielle and I nodded.

“Good job,” he said, once we showed him our cleaned crabs. “You don’t want to waste good meat because you don’t have the patience or know-how.”

Like any teacher, Dad checked our work, making sure our shells were clean. 

“It’s like with anything,” he’d always say. “If you do it enough, you’ll be a pro.”

Like her dad, Katie Bambi-Kohler enjoys her crabs with a little bit of melted butter, lemon and a cold beer. Visit her website at www.katiekohler.com.

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