Reporting contributions by Sue and Joe Willard
It’s Memorial Day and we can’t go anywhere. Except for my sister, Sue, who is at her little house down the New Jersey shore. Her kids were too scared to come so she’s with a good friend and the dog. The town is quiet, not like the usual opening of the summer season. But that’s actually okay with her because there’s other great things she loves to do at the beach, such as playing card and board games, taking walks, napping and reading. She has also simmered for hours the family’s traditional shore pot of meatballs and spaghetti sauce, following Mom’s recipe except, instead of the handful of garlic powder, she stirs in fresh garlic, oregano and basil. She and I make the sauce at other times of the year but it never tastes as goods as when family memories sit beside us at a sand-dusted table.
Our other shore memories revolve around our dad. In contrast to Mom’s almost loathing of everything about a seaside vacation (the sun blistered her Irish pale skin; the salt air caused her curly hair to spring up all over the place), Dad was never happier than by the ocean. I don’t remember him in the water as much as fishing from a pier or a boat where time spent with a rod was less about catching anything than contemplating the horizon while drinking a cold beer. As soon as we were unpacked, he left to buy a couple dozen clams to open and slurp down. Midweek, he covered the picnic table in the yard with newspaper and piled on top steamed crabs crusted with Old Bay Seasoning.
He caught the crabs himself. He and his children. Later, his grandchildren helped. After a day at the beach, all clean from the outside shower, he’d walk us to a pier on the bay while Mom put together dinner and enjoyed her first cocktail of the evening. The trick to crabbing is finding the right spot, the water shallow enough to see the bottom but with a fringe of seaweed where crabs might be hiding out. Slowly lower the metal trap down to the bottom then sit, feet hanging over the pier’s edge, and wait. And wait. And wait beyond the patience of even a very placid child. BE QUIET! And wait.
“There! There!” screamed one of us and we all leaned over to watch the crab sidewalk right into the middle and then SNAP! the doors shut. We screamed and jumped away from the waving claws as Dad pulled out our catch and into a bucket that we fought over to carry home while he envisioned a feast of fresh Jersey corn and crabs.
I think Dad would like these crab cakes and appreciate that they’re a good way to celebrate this truncated holiday and his World War II army service. A skilled photographer and film developer before enlisting, he served as an x-ray technician from North Africa to France to Normandy to a large field hospital set up in Leige, Belgium, before the Battle of the Bulge. I have an album he filled with photographs of bombed out towns, wounded soldiers and his friends, including some good-looking nurses. His medals mingle with a batch of my earrings, his army helmet sits in the basement beside the one his grandson wore in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My brother, Joe, keeps his fishing box even though it fell apart two years ago. Dad’s crab trap hangs on a hook in Sue’s beach garage. Her grandchildren have learned how to use it.
Perfect Crab Cakes
First opened in 1977, Dean & DeLuca transformed food shopping n New York City. The first store was on a side street in SoHo, smack in the middle of an exploding art scene. The store introduced food no one at the time knew what to do with–all kinds of cheeses, curd meat, strange, perfectly ripe fruits and vegetables, spices and sauces from far away countries not yet overrun by tourists. I couldn’t afford anything in it but the store exposed me to a whole basket-full of ingredients and styles of cooking I probably wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. The store is closed now, although there were rumors in April it was trying to come back. But that was a long time ago.
These crab cakes are less dense than other recipes making them perfect along side heaps of summer side dishes such as coleslaw, potato salad and, later in the season, fresh Jersey corn.
3/4 cup thick mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard, such as Maille Whole Grain
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 pounds lump crabmeat, picked over to remove cartiledge
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and slightly oil a baking sheet.
Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard and egg in a mixing bowl. Gently fold in the crab until just combined.
Gently form the mixture into eight 1-inch thick cakes and transfer to the baking sheet
Bake the crab cakes for 15 minutes. Run a spatula under them once or twice to make sure they’re not sticking. When the bottom of the cakes are lightly golden, place them under a broiler for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tops are lightly brown. Remove from broiler and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.