12 large dressed hard shell crabs (crack claws)
3 cups canned tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 quart water (approximately)
1 tablespoon salt
6 medium white potatoes
3 tablespoons hot sauce
Place crabs and claws in large kettle with water and salt. Cook over medium heat for 1 hour. Add more hot water if needed, enough to keep crabs barely covered. Add black pepper, tomatoes, hot sauce and chopped onion. Stir to mix ingredients. Then add potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender. Place cornmeal dumplings on top and cook 10 to 15 minutes longer.
I have collected memories of Core Creek for many years now. It’s the little coastal community where my grandmother was born and raised, 3 or 4 miles from my family’s farm in Carteret County. There’s hardly anything left of the old Core Creek now. Woods and salt marsh have reclaimed most of the community, though a few homes, mostly abandoned, and a beautiful old church still stand. Whenever I hear stories about the community, I write them down. Whenever I find old documents about Core Creek, I put them away in a safe place. I hold onto old recipes from Core Creek when I find them, too.
This recipe for a very traditional kind of crab stew is my most recent relic from Core Creek. I found it last week in a cookbook that I purchased at the Carteret County Curb Market in Morehead City. That old curb market is small, but the vendors bring many wonderful things, including fresh produce, flowers, honey, homemade breakfast biscuits, preserves and jelly, and all kinds of pies, cakes, and other baked goods.
Founded in 1931, the curb market is held every Saturday morning during the summer at the corner of 13th and Evans Streets, in the town’s Promise Land neighborhood. It’s been there all my life. In fact, my mother remembered how one of her aunts used to carry flowers there to sell when she was a little girl during the Great Depression.
I actually mentioned this cookbook here a couple weeks ago—it’s called Seafood Cookery from Carteret County Kitchens. The local county extension clubs first published the cookbook in 1965. It’s where I saw my recipe for “pluck”—the dish made with jumping mullet gizzards and livers.
When I wrote about pluck, I had browsed an old copy of the cookbook that was at my local fish market. I thought the cookbook was long out of print. I never expected to find my own copy. But turns out that the local home extension clubs run the curb market to this day and they still sell copies of the cookbook, available to the general public for ten dollars.
The cookbook is full of wonderful, traditional seafood dishes, but the recipe for “Core Creek Crab Pot” thrilled me the most. It came from Mrs. E. M. Foreman of the Core Creek Club and it embodies so much of what I liked about my grandmother’s cooking—freshly-caught seafood, slow cooking, and a fondness for dishes that are a fertile marriage bed of ingredients from local farm fields and the sea.
Two extra tips—Mrs. Foreman also included her recipe for corn meal dumplings: combine 1 cup corn meal, 1 tsp. salt, ¼ cup all purpose flour, and “enough water to make dough.” Shape and mold into small thin patties. Place on top of stew. Note: I make mine with just corn meal, no flour.
And if you’re not accustomed to dressing live hard crabs, the cookbook gives a good description of how to do it. And I quote: “Break off large claws. With the left hand, grasp the body of the live crab and pull off the top shell with the right hand. Cut or break off the legs. Scrape off the gills (dead man’s fingers) on the sides, and move the digestive and other organs located in the center of the body. At this point the crabs are ready for stewing.”