The Maryland Blue Crab

The blue crab has become synonymous with the state of Maryland. Although, blue crabs can be found just about anywhere along the Atlantic seaboard, ranging from Maine to southern parts of South America. Affectionately called the “blue claw” but technically called “Callinectes sapidus”, this species of crab frequents the muddy shores of the Chesapeake Bay. And, Maryland natives are very familiar with how this greenish blue crustacean tastes when steamed and covered in Old Bay.

So let’s learn a little more about this underwater creature. I was a bit surprised, this last summer when a few friends were unfamiliar with the male and female differences with respect to blue crabs. I assumed that this was due to the fact that Maryland folks usually eat male crabs and don’t often see the female version. In terms of their outward appearance, the most obvious difference is the “apron” or the lower half of the crab. However it is less frequently noticed that the females have a red tips on their claws.

The blue crab’s shell is greenish blue on top and dingy white on the bottom. An adult crab measures about 5 to 9 inches long and 3 to 5 inches wide; the crabs’ legs are bluish in color. The blue crab has a distinctive, long sharp spine on each side, which it uses for protection. A series of shorter spines surround the front edge of the crab between the large spine and the eyes. A healthy crab has ten legs and sports some nasty pincers on its front two legs, called claws. The back set of legs are flat and designed for swimming.

Blue crabs are scavengers, they feed mostly on dead fish and plants, but might also feed on other crustaceans, worms and mollusks called bivalves. Anyone who has tried to catch a blue crab, knows that a tasty fish head, chicken neck or other unwanted poultry part will attract crabs like a magnet.

Blue crabs go through several stages of growth and get larger by shedding their shell called an exoskeleton. This process is called molting. When the crab molts, it exposes a new soft shell which hardens over time. Crabs may go through this process 15 to 25 times during a lifetime and this number varies between male and female crabs.

A blue crab will take from one year to eighteen months to fully mature, depending on several factors. Crabs in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, as an example, mature more quickly, while Chesapeake Bay crabs take longer to mature. The fact that Gulf of Mexico blue crabs mature faster, allows for year round harvesting. While the Chesapeake crabbing season is restricted to the spring, summer and fall months to allow for growth during colder months.

The Black-Eyed Susan

The Maryland State Flower is the Black-Eyed Susan. The brightly colored bloom of the black-eyed susan makes it the perfect flower to represent our state. Another Maryland tradition, the Preakness is often referred to as “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans”. Even though the actual flower used to create the blanket that adorns the winner of the Preakness is a variety of Chrysanthemum, called the Viking Pom. In our state, the temperatures typically haven’t been warm long enough to have blooming black-eyed susans in May. However, the flower is planted and displayed through our state, to symbolize our pride in the greatest state in the Union. The black-eyed susan, is generally a summer to fall blooming plant when in Maryland, although the plant is capable of blooming year round if the temperatures are warm enough.

There are several varieties of the Black-Eyed Susan and all these varieties are self-seeding. This means that they are able to disperse their own seeds, allowing the plant to spread by germinating at a relatively longer distance from the parent plant. The black-eyed susan is a relative of the sunflower and is a perfect landscape plant, full of beauty and pleasing to the eye.

Things only Marylander’s will Understand

Old Bay: The spice of life in Maryland. You would be hard-pressed to find a kitchen cabinet in Maryland that does not contain Old Bay. And a true Maryland native will sprinkle this local seasoning on just about anything. The container itself is recognized state-wide and entire stores are dedicated to the product. Old Bay is manufactured by McCormick and Company, also a Maryland favorite, and

Snowballs: Having traveled a bit, I can tell you that the “snowball” is a distinctly Maryland treat. You will not need to travel very far from home to get a snowball in Maryland either, because “snowball stands” are located on every other street corner. Snowballs are shaved ice with a wide variety of sugary flavorings. A respectable snowball stand might have anywhere from 20 to 50 flavors to choose from and seem to charge a little extra for chocolate for some reason. The seasoned Maryland snowball connoisseur will also request a dollop of creamy marshmallow to top things off.

Berger Cookies: I recently found myself in desperate need of some Berger Cookies while outside of Maryland in nearby Pennsylvania and was flat out of luck. I, like any other Maryland native can spot the brown and white Berger Cookie package from across the Bakery section, and the several stores I visited had none. Anyway this shortbread cookie, topped with a deliciously thick portion of chocolate frosting is a great way to introduce out-of-town friends to the finer side of Maryland.

Natty Boh: My son has a tattoo of the iconic logo on his calf, enough said. National Bohemian beer is an interesting phenomenon in Maryland. Everyone knows about it, everyone recognizes the logo, everyone talks about it, but I’m not sure how many people actually drink it? I fairly sure that most of us older Maryland types probably remember the National Bohemian commercials during Orioles games and we’ve all seen the giant sign that shines over Baltimore, but regardless of how we learned about it, we all love it.

The Squeelers: I understand that this might be a topic for some debate, but in my opinion there is no greater rivalry then the one between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ravens fans hate the Steelers and anything that has to do with black and gold or waving towels or big, lumbering, hard to bring down quarterbacks. Fathers will cringe if their daughter dates a Steelers fan and radio stations will talk about nothing else the week leading up to the game. Both teams know that they are in for a rough and tumble Sunday when these two face off and Baltimore Ravens fans just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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