The morning dawned chilly and as I stepped outside, a misty rain began to fall. Weather like this always makes me hungry and I wondered what I should eat for breakfast. The rain brought back memories, and I reflected on odd meals I've eaten in a long and often offbeat culinary career. Like the Japanese breakfast I once ordered in a Seattle hotel dining room---to the amused giggles of a bevy of Japanese flight attendants at the next table (who feasted on hash browns, ham, and eggs). Or a picnic of bear and beaver sausage and elk stew. The barbecue of a friend’s pet goat, and a cooking demonstration on a Seattle beach---with my travel wok buried in the sand and a television camera rolling---also ranked high on the list. But the most poignant memory was of the day on which I ate Fred.
Of course, I had not planned to eat him---because Fred had become a friend. Well, sort of.
I first met him on an early spring day. The preceding night was so cold that nocturnal frosts wove delicate lacy rings of ice along the shingle margin of the bay, embellishing samphire and salt grass with a silvery sheen of hoar. At dawn, a light southerly breeze sprung up and by the time I reached the shore, the ebb frothed and gurgled over the rocks, while the wind agitated the bell buoy out on the bay.
Fred lived in a cleft in the coarse sandstone, where it pushed beyond the riprap of the railroad causeway and provided shelter for crabs, mussels, oysters, and sea anemones in hollows and grottos carved by the sea.
I first saw him while I examined the odd shapes of sea anemones exposed by the outgoing tide and left hanging from the grotto’s ceiling as amorphous lumps, looking like bats caught in a downpour. Fred crouched near the high water line and watched me anxiously, his eyes darting back and forth, but he did not run. Perhaps the cold had made him sluggish, but I’m sure it was sheer bravado on his part.
I visited him at least once a week as spring grew into summer and the blue camas of the bluffs gave way to pink roses and white daisies, and I grew quite fond of him, with an almost a paternal feeling, as I watched him go about his daily business. Which was a tad peculiar, because Fred was a Dungeness crab who didn’t recognize my kindness. Crabs aren’t set up for that.
That first morning, I tossed him a small fish left high and dry by the ebbing waters. He eagerly grabbed it and dissected it with surgical precision. After that, I often brought him treats: dead fish carried in by the tide, and an occasional clam or oyster, but I never hand-fed him, keeping my fingertips well out of reach of those pinching claws.
He must have been eating well that spring, for he emerged from his molt larger and stronger and set up a new lair at the outer edge of his cave, in a patch of swirling eelgrass, where he watched edibles float by in the tidal currents and grasped tasty morsels with his nimble claws.
But this littoral idyll was too good to last. One morning, as I clambered over the riprap, I stumbled over a large sea star murdering a crab at the ragged edge of the shore, where the rocks met the shingle.
“Oh, no,” I thought, “he got Fred. Fred’s a goner (see photo).”
But when I scrambled beyond the massacre, I found Fred crouched down in the eelgrass, a few feet from the sea star mangling the crab.
He looked all right and had not yet suffered any damage from an attack by the rapacious echinoderm, but I was sure he would be next, after the creature finished devouring its current victim.
To safeguard Fred, I picked him up, set him into my mussel bucket, and carried him down the beach, to a place where he might be safe. But on that day, there were no secure places. Large sea stars dotted the shore, otters were catching crabs, and I even watched a bald eagle carry off a large one.
There was only one way to secure Fred from these predators: I took him home and dropped him into a kettle of salted boiling water.
Cracked and dipped into melted butter, he was very good to eat.
Causes John Doerper Supports
Defenders of Wildlife
Doctors Without Borders
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation