Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop

Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop is a practical guide to the edibles that abound in and around tidal areas, and these are more numerous than the average man dreams of.  It is conceivable that, equipped with the book, an adventurous spirit might live for endless time with a minimum expenditure of money for food other than sugar, salt, flour and other pantry staples. – Craig Claiborne, The New York Times

books on foraging, harvesting

In 1971 John Lockwood (owner and designer of Pygmy Boats) found the lush rain forests of the Queen Charlotte Islands lying 90 miles off the coast of British Columbia. Here he built his first stitch-n-glue kayak–an early version of our Queen Charlotte.  Paddling 4 months out of the year, he ate from the sea’s bounty of mussels, clams, oysters, octopus, salmon, star fish eggs, 7 kinds of rock fish, whelks, etc.  Two and one half years passed quickly. John returned to the U.S. to replenish his funds as a computer software engineer and later founded Pygmy Boats (see the rest of of the story here: How Pygmy Boats Came To Be).

During those two years of kayaking and living on the Queen Charlotte’s John carried with him a comprehensive book for finding food in the inter tidal zone: Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop.  This foraging and cooking classic was first published in 1964 by Euell Gibbons (September 14, 1911 – December 29, 1975).  The cover describes it as “a delightful book on an immense variety of foods which you can gather by the ocean’s edge.  The information in this book can turn every seashore into a supermarket where all the food is fresh and free for the taking.” Evidently Gibbons kept his family alive during the Dust-Bowl era by gathering wild foods.  In later years he foraged for seafood all over the coastlines of North America and even Hawaii and was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate from Susquehanna University.

An excerpt from Chapter 4, “Crabs and Crabbing”, of Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop:

The cruelest creature’s the crab
with claws that pinch you or stab,
           And then when you dine
           On crab and white wine
It’s murder when you pick up the tab.

I seldom suffer from the kind of ‘murder’ described in the above limerick, for I derive fully as much pleasure from catching my own crabs as I do from eating the many wonderful dishes for which they provide the materials.  When I buy crabs or crab meat in the market, or order crab dishes in a restaurant, I always feel that I have been cheated of half the fun.  Like those quaint old English recipes for cooking hares, all my crab recipes should begin, “First you catch the crab.”

The American coasts are blessed with many kinds of edible crabs, all delicious to eat, smart to serve, and grand fun to catch… Crabbing makes a wonderful family sport.  Some of the methods are so simple, and some species of crab so easily caught, that the youngest toddler in your family can enjoy the thrill of catching his own crabs with very little help from you.  The equipment is simple and inexpensive, the crabs are abundant and delicious, and the roads are good between here and the sea.  Let’s go.

crab

From here Mr. Gibbons describes in detail the many varying species of crab (complete with illustrations), how to clean them, and finishes with some noteworthy recipes and charming notations such as the one below:

Deviled Crab Deluxe
Pick out the crab meat and wash the empty shells.  To 2 cups of crab meat (side note: he later mentions shrimp can also be used as a filler) add 1 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg slightly beaten, 1/4 cup each of minced celery and green pepper, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of freshly ground black peper, a dash of tobasco, and 1 cup of unwhipped whipping cream.  Mix all ingredients thoroughly and stuff into 4 crab shells, for the recipe only serves four, but it can be doubled or trebled for larger groups.  Decorate each serving with 1 or 2 cracked crab claws to advertise the main ingredient, then bake in a 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes, when the top should be just beginning to turn brown. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, serve while still sizzling, and bask in the well deserved praise that will be coming your way.

One might think that a dish as delicious as perfectly prepared Deviled Crab could hardly be improved, but it can.  In the Chesapeake Bay area and southward, the big Blues are still running when the hickory nuts begin to ripen and fall.  One autumn, as I was preparing a dinner in which I was trying to use as many natural, foraged foods as possible, I substituted 1 cup of chopped hickory nuts for the bread crumbs of the above recipe, with wonderful results.  Since then I have tried using walnuts and pecans when hickory nuts were not available, and in every case I have found crab and nuts have an almost mystical valency for one another; the result is always a very special seafood treat.

Whether it’s for the recipes, the knowledge or the goal of harvesting your own food, Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop is a worthy companion for kayakers.  It wasn’t until recently that we had considered carrying it, when one of our customers contacted us to inquire about foraging book recommendations, and then it occurred to us that we had overlooked a gem.  When the books arrived we excitedly tore into them to find a new recipe for some recently harvested clams.

Yes,  scallops do have blue eyes. Stalking the blue-eyed scallop is a cookbook, nature guide and remembrance that pulls you in like a riptide. It is particularly illuminating about all the fine seafood we can gather on our shores, with beautiful descriptions of their habitats and behavior, and not least, recipes for some of the most unique and savory dishes you will every enjoy.
– Shirley King 1997 (Shirley King is a professional chef and author of numerous cookbooks and articles including the classic, Fish).

I think Mr. Gibbons is one of America’s most original writers about nature and food, and I’ve followed his advice about the gathering of periwinkles, edible seaweed and such and cooked a la Gibbons with delicious results.  This book is the best antidote to mechanized modern life.   I can’t think of any other that has given me as much pleasure each time I’ve picked it up.
– Nika Hazelton, The New York Times Book Review

To order the book, Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, click here.

 

 



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