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Crabbing season opened last month, but the low crab population and cool spring has many watermen stuck on the dock, waiting for the first beautiful swimmers to arrive. It means a lot of empty picnic tables and crab feasts turned into last-minute barbecues here in the Chesapeake, where crabs mean summer, prosperity, and the essence of the best of the Bay.

Photo courtesy of Edwaste on Flickr: http://bit.ly/1ko0X0B

Crabbing season opened last month, but the low crab population and cool spring has many watermen stuck on the dock, waiting for the first beautiful swimmers to arrive. It means a lot of empty picnic tables and crab feasts turned into last-minute barbecues here in the Chesapeake, where crabs mean summer, prosperity, and the essence of the best of the Bay.

Photo courtesy of Edwaste on Flickr: http://bit.ly/1ko0X0B

"House in Negro section of Baltimore, Maryland." July 1938. Medium-format nitrate negative by John Vachon. For a larger version: http://bit.ly/1sqTn73

After a sweaty-palmed trip over the long Chesapeake Bay Bridge, many beachgoers make habitual yearly stops on their annual exodus to Ocean City at many of the crab houses on Kent Island. But they weren’t always massive waterfront establishments with gorgeous views of loblolly islands and watermen coming and going. As this photo reminds us, the original “crab houses” would have been the kitchen in a private home, where a local lady made some extra cash by cooking up and serving crabs to her hungry neighbors. In the sweltering belly of a Baltimore summer, the smell of a proprietary blend of spices would have clouded in the humidity, a savory London fog and invisible shop sign. Crabs, clams, fried or cakes wrapped in newspaper, all to be carried off and eaten on a quiet stoop with salty fingers and a glowing, greasy chin.

"House in Negro section of Baltimore, Maryland." July 1938. Medium-format nitrate negative by John Vachon. For a larger version: http://bit.ly/1sqTn73

After a sweaty-palmed trip over the long Chesapeake Bay Bridge, many beachgoers make habitual yearly stops on their annual exodus to Ocean City at many of the crab houses on Kent Island. But they weren’t always massive waterfront establishments with gorgeous views of loblolly islands and watermen coming and going. As this photo reminds us, the original “crab houses” would have been the kitchen in a private home, where a local lady made some extra cash by cooking up and serving crabs to her hungry neighbors. In the sweltering belly of a Baltimore summer, the smell of a proprietary blend of spices would have clouded in the humidity, a savory London fog and invisible shop sign. Crabs, clams, fried or cakes wrapped in newspaper, all to be carried off and eaten on a quiet stoop with salty fingers and a glowing, greasy chin.

A late 19th century shad planking celebrates the first major catch of the spring. Now part of the Chesapeake past, the commercial harvest is closed due to low shad populations, but during its heyday, shad was ubiquitous- cheap, plentiful and delicious. The only downside was the thicket of tiny bones inside. Planking the fish over a slow, hot fire allowed the tiny bones to dissolve in the even heat, and produced a crispy, oily fish perfumed by the hickory it had sizzled on.

Shad plankings were large community gatherings to celebrate the return of spring, and as such, attracted politicians looking to curry favor while bellies were full and spirits high. Today, the term “shad planking” is synonymous with political stumping.

A late 19th century shad planking celebrates the first major catch of the spring. Now part of the Chesapeake past, the commercial harvest is closed due to low shad populations, but during its heyday, shad was ubiquitous- cheap, plentiful and delicious. The only downside was the thicket of tiny bones inside. Planking the fish over a slow, hot fire allowed the tiny bones to dissolve in the even heat, and produced a crispy, oily fish perfumed by the hickory it had sizzled on.

Shad plankings were large community gatherings to celebrate the return of spring, and as such, attracted politicians looking to curry favor while bellies were full and spirits high. Today, the term “shad planking” is synonymous with political stumping.