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Crabs In The Box

Crabs In The Box

I can remember when I was young and living in Jamaica that we used to have a wonderful pastime of going to catch land crabs during the rainy season. The falling water would fill their holes, and then be cooked by the unrelenting sun. This combination would make them come out of their homes at night and march by the hundreds, maybe even by the millions, as seen through the eyes of a child. Whenever this happened, many families would get together and go “crabbing.”  This was a big outing for us. We would dress in pants and long sleeve shirts and hats to cover our skin, as mosquitoes which hatched in standing water would also swarm. The men would arm themselves with gloves and flashlights and become like little boys playing Cowboys and Indians, with that kind of circling the wagons mentality. They would drive up and down the streets with the windows down, pointing their flashlights along the sidewalks as they drove. We  children were suppose to hold the crocus bag, and jump out of the car behind them when they stopped the car as they spotted a crab either walking along the side, or crossing the road.

Once spotted, it became a big commotion as they went into battle with their opponent. If there was only one crab, then one man would get out of the car and run after the crab who by this time realized that it was in danger so it would start to run. Crabs run sideways, so when confronted by their enemy, they run to one side, and then to the other with their claws outstretched in fighting mode in an attempt to outsmart their attacker. The trick to catching these crustaceans, is to get behind them so that you can position your foot on its back, where it is unable to move. While holding it down with your foot, you would then bend down and using your dominant hand with the thumb and third finger, or thumb and little finger outstretched, depending on the size of the crab; you would pick it up by holding the back between your two fingers where it would be unable able to pinch you with its claws.

When the victor had his spoils in hand, he would shout, “Hurry Up! Hurry Up!—Bring the bag, Bring the bag,” and if you were assigned to that person, you would go running towards them with crocus bag in hand. Since everyone was your uncle whether they were related to you or not, your father or your uncle, depending on who it was, would open the bag and throw the crab in when you got there. And so they continued until they spotted the next crab while passing dead ones that had been smashed by cars when crossing the road. If they caught one or two bags filled to the brim, then it was considered a very good catch. They would do this for several nights until the crabs returned to their holes, not to come out again after the water had receded. The custom was to store them in home-made wire cages in the backyard, and to feed them for a week with mangoes and other fruits that were in season. This would purge them, cleaning out this bitter black gall that resides in their bodies, resulting in the meat becoming white and having a delicious sweet flavor. Then they would invite all their friends over for a “crab feed.” Some of the crabs would be boiled in water with salt and scotch bonnet peppers that were sliced. These peppers are regarded the hottest in the world. In Jamaica, everything is cooked with scotch bonnet peppers, so much so, that it is normal to see even the tiniest child eating these spicy foods which would cause a grown person who is not used to it, to spit it out and cry. The rest of the crabs would be curried, and of course, laced with just as much pepper. They would serve it with green bananas and other foods such as yam and boiled dumplings. All of this was cooked in kerosene pans over an open fire made out of concrete blocks with coal inside. There would be calypso and reggae music, and lots of Red Stripe Beer and soda for the kids. Then they would party and laugh and eat as they exchanged stories about how they lost the one with the biggest claw you’ve ever seen, or how this one nearly bit them, or how this one made them trip and fall down, but it never got away. In the meantime, the children would run up and down playing tag with each other until their clothes were soaking wet. Read More