Crabs, corn, bugs and baseball: a summer recap

September 03, 2005|By ROB KASPER

IT HAS BEEN an excellent season for crabs and corn, so-so for bugs and bad for baseball.

That is my summation of the summer of 2005. Technically it is still summer until the autumnal equinox falls on Sept. 22. But while some bugs and calendar purists behave as if September is still the summertime, for most of us, the Labor Day weekend signals the end of the warm ride.

Certain experiences define a Maryland summer. Cracking crabs, feasting on sweet corn, battling mosquitoes and following the fortunes of the Baltimore Orioles are mainstays of my summer. To add a touch of objectivity to what is an admittedly personal, impressionistic look at the past three months, I spoke with folks who toil in some of these fields and asked them to recap their summers.

On the crab front, both Rob Cernak, owner of Obrycki's restaurant in East Baltimore, and Mark Musterman who runs Strongs Bay Seafood, a wholesale and retail operation on Kent Island, said this had been a good summer for fans of steamed crustaceans.

Cernak said that record throngs of mallet-waving diners had descended on his family's restaurant.

Musterman said that while local crabs were scarce early in the summer, their numbers picked up as the summer wore on.

"We had a cool May, so the crab harvest started off slowly," said Musterman, who said his wholesale operation supplies crabs to about 100 area businesses. "Last year, I got my first Maryland crab on May 15; this year it was June 15."

While waiting for the Chesapeake Bay harvest to start, Musterman bought crabs from the Gulf Coast suppliers. That source of crabs has been tossed into chaos by Hurricane Katrina, he said.

Recounting a telephone conversation he had late this week with one of his Louisiana suppliers, he said some crabbers there could be finished for the season. "They are trying to find their boats and crab pots; they don't know if they will be shut down for three weeks or a year," Musterman said.

Crab eaters in Maryland probably aren't likely to notice this drop-off in Louisiana production because there is an abundant supply of crabs coming from the Chesapeake Bay, Musterman said. "There are a ton of crabs out there, especially in Southern Maryland," he said.

Moreover, he said, demand for crabs traditionally drops around Labor Day, even though Chesapeake Bay crabs get heavier and larger in September. As for prices, Musterman said he was retailing extra-large or jumbo crabs at $40 a dozen this weekend, and $25 a dozen for mediums.

Pam Pahl reported this was a banner summer for flavorful sweet corn. "It was a good summer for corn because corn likes a lot of rain," said Pahl, whose family grows produce in Baltimore County and sells it at a variety of Baltimore-area markets. She spoke to me by cell phone as she sold ears at the Thursday farmers' market in Towson. She, too, noted that the season had a cool beginning but rallied as rain and hot weather rolled in during July. "That combination of hot weather and rain made it a good corn year," she said.

On the bug front, the news was mixed, said Cy Lesser. He oversees the Maryland Department of Agriculture's annual battle with mosquitoes.

The good news, he said, is that many of the mosquitoes who reside in the state's marshes and tidal waterways got eaten by a bumper crop of minnows. Mother Nature worked things out so that there was plenty of water in the marshes, and therefore plenty of hungry minnows who feed on mosquito larvae, Lesser said.

The bad news is that the urban mosquito, the pesky Asian tiger, enjoyed another summer of feasting on Marylanders, he said. These mosquitoes breed in small amounts of standing water, such as the containers that catch water in the bottom of flower pots. Since there are no predators that swim in these small amounts of water, the Asian tigers enjoyed a worry-free summer, feeding on bare backyard flesh, Lesser said. The most effective weapon in the fight against this pest, he said, is to eliminate the sources of standing water, a chore that can be frustrating.

Finally, on the baseball front, this summer has been a deep disappointment. After a tantalizing first half of the season, the Orioles collapsed. Not only did they lose games, they lost their dignity. Their once-proud tradition was stained by steroid and drunken-driving scandals. I still follow the team, listening to the radio broadcasts as I swat the last of summer's mosquitoes and eat the season's last offerings of crab and corn. But like a lot of Marylanders, I can't wait for this part of summer to fade away.

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