Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Land Crab Season

September 19th, 2008 · 7 Comments

I went to lunch with the Post’s oped editor, Lou Ann Frala today and she was freaking out. She saw her first land crab. “I nearly ran off the road — I couldn’t take my eyes off this thing. It was going across the road and I couldn’t believe how HUGE it was! I went home and looked it up – it’s a land crab! Have you ever seen one?”

One? Oh yeah! Hundreds of them over the years. And always, this time of year. For those who’ve never encountered one close up, they are pretty scary indeed — they stand up about six inches off the ground, and can span a good 10 inches claws-out. We’re not talking dinky little crabs here — but big crustaceans with googly eyes and that menacing pincer.

landcrab Land Crab Season

Land crab in Homestead

Growing up in Fort Lauderdale with a canal right down the street, we had them all over the neighborhood this time of year. They like the mangroves along the coastal areas throughout the Caribbean.  I mostly associate them with their stink — these things are vile once you run over them — and you can’t help it when they are 40 deep in the road. Then they bake on the highway. Mercy!! The crunch and smell is disgusting — baked crab guts.

My favorite story comes from a more recent encounter that my buddy from Rochester, NY, had with them. Terry Williams is one of the Telecom guys who maintains the Post’s very essential phone system. He’s known for his prowess with the professional cappucino maker that’s in the back room of Telecom; a Friday afternoon treat for certain lucky Post-ers.

Back to the crabs: After Hurricane Francis blew through in ’04, it pretty much took out The Post’s distribution warehouse in Port St. Lucie. Williams was charged with going up there in the aftermath, a trial on its own, and salvaging any phone equipment he could from the wreckage.

According to Williams, “The whole place was pitch black. I went in and heard these noises — skittery, clicky sounds — I figured someone was in the back trying to steal stuff. I turned on my flashlight and the whole place was moving — pretty much the whole floor. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was — hundreds of land crabs all over the place! It was like being in some horror flick!”

It scared him at first, but once he realized they were going to run from him, he was OK with it.  “They would challenge with that waving claw if you cornered them,” he says. ”There were thousands more out in the field in front of the building. It really was something out of the Twilight Zone.” Attack of the Crab Monster, no doubt.

As kids, we’d mess with them — the dogs would tell us where they were by barking their heads off at a bush or a pile of rocks. We knew better than to squish them since they’d stink up the place. So we’d corner them and get them to latch onto a stick — oftentimes, they could crack right through one, since the force of that fighter claw is something to reckon with. We’d fling them into the yard of the curmudgeon guy across the street, or if we felt like it, would drop them into a bucket and haul them back down to the canal where they created huge burrows on the bank — they didn’t like to be in the water, but they would dig down to where the tide would come into their holes and keep them wet. Sometimes we’d have crab fights — they circle each other like boxers on stilts, and crazily wave those attack pincers in a “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!!!!”  kind of motion when put into a closed space together.

It was always the full moons of September and October that brought them out – crab breeding season. So we thought of them as the harbinger of Halloween – and big rains. (You could always count on rain at Halloween in South Florida — that’s another story.)

You can eat them, though we never did. They’re popular in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. They’re protected from July 15-Oct. 31; you can harvest them after that; up to 20 in Florida per day. Weird crab trivia: They’re mostly vegetarians, but eat a few bugs.

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Tags: Old Florida

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 chazpbg // Sep 21, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Hey Jan (it’s Charles Passy). Still loving the blog. Any idea if you can ever buy these things? (At an ethnic seafood market perhaps?).

    Judging from the size of them, I’m too chicken to hunt them down!

  • 2 Jan Norris // Sep 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I honestly don’t know of anyplace that sells these, but you might try a Caribbean grocery or give a call to Rosita’s up here by me in Lake Park.
    They have quite a few things that most mainstream grocers don’t carry.

    And, for those who don’t recognize his name, Charles Passy is restaurant critic and food writer, and features reporter for The Palm Beach Post.

  • 3 hazmat1225 // Sep 21, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Chris and I used to catch them in his grandfather’s garage. We’d scoop them up with a rake and fling them as far down the street as we could. Ha!

  • 4 Sally Swartz // Sep 21, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Oldtimers in Stuart say the crabs aren’t good to eat unless you put them in a pen and feed them leafy vegetables for a few weeks. Otherwise their meat tastes very gamey. Also, the reason they’re out and about this time of year: Looking for love. It’s mating season for land crabs.

  • 5 go8ago8a // Sep 22, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    I remember in 1982 driving from North Palm where we lived to Juno Beach and having hundreds of land crabs running from one side of Fed Hwy or was it A1A… In Puerto Rico one catches the crab and keeps it in a corral for a week whilst feeding it corn to clean out its system- the flavor then cannot be equaled. One must clean em out his way to get the real deal flavor. Maybe the folks at El Coqui would know where to get them. Or at the new Puerto Rican Place at Wellington Green Mall.

  • 6 scottsfla // Sep 23, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    I remember hearing of people corralling the critters in a pen and feeding them corn meal for several days to clean them out, much as folks did with a chicken they were readying to slaughter for Sunday dinner.

  • 7 Ben // Oct 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I was raised in south Florida in the mid 60′s to late 70′s, my brother and I would hunt them with bows and arrows, bring them home and cook and clean. Those were the days…..I really miss them. Have been in texas for the past 30 years. not such critter here, at least I have never seen them here…

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