The charm of analogue photography is something a digital camera, no matter how many megapixels in strength, cannot replicate. I miss the rickety clicking of sprockets as the film is advanced after each shot, the mystery of whether that perfect moment was captured with the right exposure, squinting to decrypt small rectangular negatives against a windowpane, the giddiness upon seeing an image materialise before your eyes in the chemical bath, bringing it out of the red-lit darkroom to examine fully for the first time, and reliving the moment in which the very same scene was carefully composed through a camera viewfinder.
But its attractions and limitations are one in the same, and there were one too many instances of gut-wrenching disappointment, coming back from a beautiful holiday to find that the film was botched—the time spent crouching unbecomingly in front of flower specimens and pestering your friends to “wait, stay right there, that’s perfect, just let me adjust the focus!” was all for naught.
In many cases, it’s more than worth that risk. I learned film photography on my father’s old Nikon FM2 and experienced the glory of a 50mm prime lens with the lowest f-stop I’d ever dialled down to. I saw the world in Ilford black/white and, for once in my life, scrupulously delighted in imperfection; if a stunning orange streak of light-leak is technically a mistake, why bother getting it perfect?
But alas, there’s the ever-persistent and ever-so-boring issue of expenses, of practicality, of security, of turnaround time. I’ve considered reverting to film for this blog venture, but it just wouldn’t make sense right now. Back in the glory days I would spend so much time in the darkroom trying to perfect one print that normal circadian rhythms were sacrificed in exchange for superhuman night vision; I’d walk out and feel like an analogue vampire in the blinding midday light or, even more disorienting, exit into more darkness without realising the whole day had gone by. Maybe one day I’ll convert my bathroom into a DIY darkroom or win a free film lottery jackpot, but for now I’ll just invite the lovely Hollie Fernando into my kitchen.
Despite of all the reasons I lean digital these days (and hey don’t get me wrong—there are plenty of pixelated nuances that make it as artfully delightful as analogue), I fully understand and respect that she “just can’t fall in love with it”. And looking at her beautiful handiwork, that persistent love affair with film is evident in each grainy-good photograph. She’s shared her final snaps with me, with which I’ll trail off this post in hopes of sharing the best of both worlds and adding a little bit of the double-exposed charm back to my own life.
I was honoured when she approached me for a new project of hers, but even more excited to share the process of this meal with a fellow visual feaster. Neither of us had handled a live crab before but I knew that if I were to try my hand at Maryland-style crab soup, I’d want to see this creature all the way through. People are quick to furrow their brow disapprovingly at the thought of killing something in the kitchen before preparing it for the dinner table, as if buying pre-picked crab meat in a vacuum-sealed freezer pack is more compassionate or civilised; on the contrary, I’m of the opinion that freshly and humanely killing your meal is far more respectful to the animal, truer to how we were meant to draw sustenance from resources around us, and generally more tasty!
With crabs, it’s particularly important because bacteria will begin eating away and changing the flavour of its meat as soon as it dies…and no crab should die for the sake of a soup that’s anything less than fresh and flavourful. This is the case with most seafood, which explains why many parts of the world eat seafood while it’s still alive and, in many cases, kicking. (Drunken shrimp and raw oysters, anyone?)
It’s a messy job to kill, cook, and dress a crab, but in the best way possible. Even when taking a hammer and some pliers to the stubborn exoskeletal claws (I would discover fragments of shell scattered about my hair, hours later), we found ourselves in a contented silence; painstakingly extracting the tiny slivers and sweet nuggets of crab meat from every honeycomb crevice was inexplicably therapeutic, serenely systematic. Grab one of these prehistoric-looking crustaceans before the end of their season. I’ve paired them here with piles of Fabaceae and pods of green legume goodies—fresh broad beans, french/string beans, garden peas, runner beans—and a hefty sprinkle of homemade Old Bay seasoning, which is only as complicated as a pinch of every spice in your pantry. And the best advice I can give is to never, ever forget the fresh loaf of crusty sourdough.
Maryland Crab Soup w/ Fresh Legumes
- whole live crab
- 1 stalks celery, chopped
- ½ onion
- garlic cloves
- 1 t black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ onion, chopped
- 400g tomatoes, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
- 200g waxy potatoes, cubed
- 1 ear sweetcorn
- 150g in-pod broad beans
- 150g in-pod green peas
- 150g french/green beans
Old Bay seasoning:
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 T celery salt
- ¼ t paprika
- ⅛ t black pepper
- ⅛ t cayenne pepper
- pinch of powdered mustard
- pinch of smoked paprika
- pinch of nutmeg
- pinch of cinnamon
- pinch of allspice
- pinch of cloves
- pinch of ginger
I educated myself as thoroughly as I could before humanely killing and dressing this crab, and a great thing called Google makes this easy for anyone to do the same. I won’t claim to be an authority, so do check out these videos, read up on reputable marine resource pages, and don’t just shove your live crab in a pot of boiling water!
Bring (unsalted) water to a boil in a large enough pot to fit the crab. Place in the entire crab and cook over high until shells are bright red. Use tongs to remove the crab and let it cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove all the meat to set aside and add big segments of shell back to the pot.
Add the two stalks of chopped celery, half an onion, garlic cloves, and peppercorns into the cooking liquid along with crab shell fragments. Boil this broth uncovered for about an hour, skimming the froth off the top occasionally. Strain through cheese-cloth or a fine sieve into a large bowl, pressing out all the liquid and discarding leftover solids.
In a saucepan, sauté onions and celery in some oil over medium heat until softened. Add all the vegetables, along with the homemade Old Bay, into the crab stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add crabmeat back to the soup and simmer 5 minutes more. Adjust seasonings and serve hot with fresh bread.