Crayfish and me

I’ve been coming to Cape Cod all my life. I was just over a year old when I first visited Peter’s Pond, in Sandwich, and my parents took us there every subsequent summer of my childhood. They still spend summers there and, before Kevin and I moved to the Cape ourselves, we were regular visitors.

This is all by way of telling you that I’m very familiar with crayfish.

The ponds on Cape Cod are full of them. When I was a kid, we used to go out at night with a flashlight and a bucket and look for them under rocks. We never had any trouble finding them, but we weren’t great at catching them. They move by propelling themselves backward with a flick of their tail, and they’re surprisingly fast. Still, I was probably five years old the first time I caught a crayfish.

So why did it take me this long to eat one?

It’s like this. Growing up (that is, until yesterday), I had a hazy idea that crayfish were somehow different from crawfish. Crawfish were something you caught down in Louisiana in a bayou or something, boiled up with Zatarain’s crab boil, and ate with your hands. Crayfish were something you pulled from pond scum, and promptly put back.

I’ve been eating crawfish and repatriating crayfish for 48 years.

Then, yesterday, Kevin checked the minnow trap we put out in the pond. We’d baited it with cat food, and hoped to catch some of the small fish of various species that are so tempting to trout. When he hauled it into shore, he found that it was full of crayfish. Nine of them.

“Have you ever eaten these?” he asked.

Okay, here I am, trying to eat as much first-hand food as possible. I’ve scoured the landscape for edible plants. I’ve raised birds for eggs and for meat. I’ve been gardening and beekeeping and fishing my little heart out. Yet, when my husband asks me whether I’ve ever eaten these little crustaceans that he caught in our own back yard, I have to tell him no.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

Why not, indeed. I tried to put into words my hazy idea about crayfish and crawfish. “I don’t think they’re exactly the same,” I ventured, scratching my head.

Kevin looked in the trap, and looked at me, and looked in the trap again. “They look the same.”

They certainly did.

“Don’t those Louisiana crawfish come from salt water?” I asked. But that didn’t sound right, even to me. “Or maybe brackish water?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I thought all crawfish lived in fresh water.”

“But are they different from crayfish?” And so we were back where we started.

Why I didn’t simply Google them years ago I’ll never know.

Of course they’re the same. You knew that. Kevin knew that. But me, I honestly didn’t know that. And I’m supposed to be a food professional.

I didn’t have any Zatarain’s, so I boiled them up with some Old Bay, and we ate them with our hands.

10 people are having a conversation about “Crayfish and me

  1. martha in mobile says:

    But did you (as we say in the Deep South) “suck they heads and pinch they tails”?

  2. Bless your heart, but I can’t do ‘mud bugs’, which is their other name. It isn’t the name that puts me off; it’s the distinctly gamey flavor. I think that if times got tough, and first hand food was all that was available, though, I’d figure out a way to like them.

  3. Hoosierbuck says:

    We used to use a seine net and catch piles of them. Old Bay is a good way to go, with lemons, potatoes, onions, sausage, garlic cloves, corn on the cob. We do boils like this 3-4 propane cookers with 40 qt. pots at a time for get togethers and such. Sooooo good. Did you like them?

  4. I guess I should have mentioned that they were good. They’re like mild, sweet little shrimp. Paula, there’s no gamey in them — I think you woulda liked them.

    Martha, I just went with the tails. They were so small!

    Hoosier, that sounds awful good. If we had had more than 9 of them, I think we would have fired up the propane burner and done a proper crawfish boil.

  5. Do you need a license to collect these? I don’t remember them being covered by the shellfish license I got last year.

    • Emily, they’re not covered by a shellfish license, and I don’t know of any regulation of them — but it didn’t occur to me to check. If you look into it, and find that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has something to say about it, please let me know!

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