Doughnuts, pickles, ice cream, mayonnaise, cucumber sandwiches. It's a smorgasbord fit for a pregnancy but also a sampling of the side dishes people from across the region serve when they eat steamed crabs, each one loved by some and scoffed at by many.
Most folks agree that you have to serve something with crabs. As tasty as those little crustaceans are, picking crabs is hard work, so it's nice to take a break from the dissection here and there to eat other food.
"You just get tired of picking them. So you have to have a slice of pizza, too," explained Diana Ryan, an accountant from Baltimore who said she grew up ordering cheese pizza with her crabs.
"My father-in-law, believe it or not, eats white bread with his crabs. He has a stack of white bread right on the table with him," said Joe Bernard, owner of the Wye River Inc. crab seasoning company.
Pickles play a central role in many crab-feast traditions.
"On the table while we're eating crabs will be fresh dill pickles and saltine crackers. That's a family thing," said Bob Evans, a waterman from Churchton, Md. "And only Premium saltine crackers--no store brands."
In some Eastern Shore counties, "people love to have crabs with cheese and pickles," explained Anna Siachos, an owner of Pier Street Restaurant, the only crab house in Oxford, Md. "It has to be that sharp cheddar cheese."
You often hear that phrase when crab feasts are the topic: "It has to be . . . " fresh tomatoes, or it has to be Ritz crackers, or it has to be Dunkin' Donuts.
"My parents have this group of friends we'd always have crabs with, and they would always have Dunkin' Donuts with them. Not just any doughnut--Dunkin' Donuts," said Lisa Stewart, a pastry chef in training from Baltimore. She continued: "Chocolate, honey-glazed, strawberry, whatever. It was kind of dessert, but sometimes you eat the doughnuts and go back for more crabs."
Many Southern Marylanders enjoy a bowl of ice cream after their crab feasts, said Betty Duty, administrator of the Maryland Watermen's Association. Any flavor and (Lisa Stewart and Bob Evans take note) any brand will do.
Most crab houses are ready with little cups of vinegar and crab seasoning, which are traditional Eastern Shore dips for crab meat. A number of people ask for drawn butter with their crabs. But if they are from the Eastern Shore, they risk deportation for this.
Some variations on those dips:
Calvin "Pee Wee" Matthews, a waterman from Shady Side in Anne Arundel County, described his family's favorite crab condiment: a sauce made of mayonnaise, yellow mustard and a dash of Old Bay seasoning.
"As far as I know, we're the only ones who do it," Matthews said. "Use more mayonnaise than mustard. Just enough mustard for the mayonnaise to turn color. It adds a nice flavor to it."
"I have me a little bowl of vinegar with some Old Bay in it," explained Clarence Smith, of Solomons, Md. "Then I just dip my meat and cracker into that."
"What I like to do is take cider vinegar, pour it into a little paper cup and put some seasoning in that," said Whitey Schmidt, author of the "The Official Crab Eater's Guide," "The Crab Cookbook" and five other crab-oriented books. He grew up near Suitland in Prince George's County, but recently moved to Crisfield on the Eastern Shore.
He is that rare breed of crab lover who doesn't really cling to traditions or particular methods. Instead, he tries new things and even admits to having trouble picking crabs sometimes.
"When you're picking a crab, you'll always come upon a section of the crab that's harder to pick than the other," he explained. "That's the part I put into the cup of vinegar. That will actually soften the meat."
He also plugged the traditional crab sides: sliced tomatoes and corn on the cob. ("I prefer the Silver Queen.") Schmidt even has a recommendation on music: country western. "You never eat crabs to rock-and-roll," he said. "It just doesn't work."
Of all the conflicting menus, one common denominator did emerge from the many traditions: "And, of course, nothing else but a cold beer," said Pier Street's Anna Siachos, "and a beautiful sunset."
"I love a cold crab. There's a lot of flavor in them."
--Crab cookbook author Whitey Schmidt, of Crisfield, Md.
Pickles and cheese? "That's just what goes with crabs."
--Jane Jones, of Cambridge, Md.
"People up here in Southern Maryland aren't as crazy about all that seasoning as the people in the city are. People around the cities normally like it just glopped on."
--Waterman Bob Evans, of Churchton, Md.