This dish isn’t much to look at, but if you like the taste of crabmeat fresh out of the ocean you will love this recipe. It is from “The Armchair James Beard,” edited by John Ferrone. It’s a fascinating read about the great culinary artist, James Beard, with articles by Beard himself, and is an excellent scratch cooking gourmet cookbook. It’s a favorite of mine because Beard was born right here in Portland, Oregon, in 1903, and spent many of his early years in Gearhart, a quiet little town on the north Oregon coast where my great-grandparents also had a summer home. It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that he headed for New York to make his mark in the culinary world. His family lived here in Portland so he came back to visit and even taught cooking classes in the 1970’s in the close by town of Seaside. In those years I was going to school and raising kids and don’t know if I even knew who James Beard was, but today I would give almost anything to be able to take one of those classes.
Throughout his life, Beard was blessed with an extremely good sense of taste. He could remember flavors much like a person with a photographic memory recalls images. His mother was an accomplished cook and used only the finest, freshest ingredients bought from the farmers who grew it. Good local seafood was plentiful in Portland and it’s the abundance and availability of these ingredients that shaped his love for food and his style of cooking.
This recipe for Grammie Hamblet’s Deviled Crab is one of James Beard’s earliest and best known recipes. I found a old, discolored clipping of it in one of my mother’s recipe files and remember her making this dish for special occasions. Even back then crabmeat was expensive but my grandparents lived at the coast and had a boat they took out in the bay at Tillamook and put out their own crab pots. When the catch was good we celebrated with big crab dinners. During crab season it is usually plentiful in the better fish markets but, even though it is caught right off our coastline, it costs almost a fortune to buy it. I hear that most of it goes off to Asian markets where they don’t mind paying very high prices for our beloved Dungeness crab. So…with that in mind this is a good recipe for those who love crab. One pound of crab will serve 4 adults. The recipe is so simple…just chop the vegetables very fine and crush up the soda crackers. When it’s baked it tastes like it is all crab meat with a little crunch and wonderful flavor.
Dungeness is a crab that inhabits grass beds and water bottoms all the way from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down through the Pacific Ocean waters of California and even into parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They are named after Dungeness, Washington, which is located near Port Angeles, WA, in the Puget Sound area. This area is where Captain George Vancouver explored in the Strait of Juan de Fuca along the northern area of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula in the late eighteenth century. Dungeness Crab is hailed as one of the most iconic foods in the Great Pacific Northwest! You can read more about this highly prized crustacean HERE.
Gearhart is still a very small community on Oregon’s north coast. Even today it consists of a not very busy 4-way stop in the center of town. It was there that James Beard learned to savor wild berries, hazelnuts, and salmon—silvery coho and the mighty Chinook, the Pacific’s largest salmon species. Oregon also offers halibut, albacore tuna, whiting, clams, oysters, shrimp, and, best of all, Dungeness crab…resources he used to create many of his best known recipes. James Beard passed away in 1985 and his ashes were scattered in the ocean off Gearhart. Looking back, his friend Julia Child summed up his contributions to the food world: “In the beginning, was Beard.”