Tuesday, 1 October 2013

HUNGERFORD ARCADE AND CRABS

Stuart has gone all 'crabbie'!  I wonder why?  Read his article and like me, you will, in a fascinating way, learn what it is all about.
Rita

On The Counter 

Often when I am in the Arcade, I am shown interesting items which sometimes do not give a clue as to their actual use. This was the case recently when I was shown several pairs of what I supposed to be either late eighteenth or early nineteenth century nutcrackers. However their size troubled me as they were rather small and did not look like they were up to the task. 
I do not eat nuts so I supposed these crackers to be for the smaller varieties of nuts but I was soon corrected. These instruments were for crabs. I was not surprised at my error as I do not like any kind of crustaceans. I have never eaten one in all my life. Indeed during my foolish years of youth, I often purchased live crabs and released the creatures back into their habitats (this is a rather expensive pastime so I would not recommend it).
My wife and I have been known to raid the odd crab bucket (when the fisherman was not looking) and release the contents back into their watery home (again I would not recommend this as fisherman can be fleet of foot and to say that the incident was accidental is not always believed). 
But what of these crab crackers? I had not really considered their existence prior to being shown the examples but knowing that the creature is covered by a thick exoskeleton they are an entirely logical invention. I have looked on the internet and indeed these instruments stretch back a good numbers of years. 
We are all very familiar with crabs, from our early holidays when we innocently fished with our nets for crabs to the thrill of finding one of these tiny creatures in a rock pool usually hiding under seaweed or burrowing into the available sand. 
It is well known that crabs walk sideways (not all but most) and the occasional philosopher had looked into this gait when studying their sciences. As we are all aware crabs are quite aggressive (towards enquiring fingers and each other) we have all experienced a crab nip. Like man they are territorial and are also known to argue over the female of the species. They are omnivores and mostly feed on algae and other detritus. To some extent it is the make up of the crab which makes its behaviour easy to predict and therefore they are easy to catch. Over one million tons are caught and consumed annually worldwide. 
Unlike something like a banana, crabs are by nature very difficult to eat. They can be served in different ways, eaten whole (some crabs have a softer shell than others) or just the legs and claws are eaten. Whichever way it was obvious that the diner on some occasions would need some help. The aim when eating is not to get the contents of your dish on your clothes. Hence the idea of crab crackers. 
When researching, it is difficult to pin down exactly when these fearsome looking instruments were introduced. We have been consuming crustaceans from the prehistoric times. Archaeologists have discovered the detritus left by our early ancestors. It was not a question of etiquette with these people but survival. If they were near an available food source then as long as the taste was acceptable and the contents were not poisonous then they were consumed. 
Lobsters (and I imagine crabs) were known to the ancient Romans and Greeks and it would not surprise me if these people might have invented the forefathers of the crab crackers that were shown to me on that day. In Asiatic countries these creatures had been delicacies for centuries and although I have not seen examples it is likely that these instruments were used.  
For me the crabs will always be the creatures in the rock pool visited by the dog Boot every summer in The Perishers newspaper cartoon. For them “ The Eyeballs in the Sky”  were at once a mystical visitation as well as an excuse for some crustacean infighting. I would like to think amongst all the chaos in that rock pool that there would be a more philosophical crab who might have noticed the similarities between the crab crackers and the very crabs themselves. He might have written “ If you do not like your reflection, then turn away”  But that is a million miles away from the brass crab crackers I was shown on that late summer Saturday. 



If you want to lean more then there a number of excellent websites on the internet on this subject. With regard to our friend the crab there are as far as I can see not so many websites on crab crackers but a large number on crabs and other crustaceans as well as the cooking and preparation of these creatures.
Stuart Miller-Osborne











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