First Bites: Victoria Fedden

Categories: First Bites

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Last week Victoria Fedden sent us this awesome memory of finding free food in Delaware:

"Each summer we were chicken-neckers. We stood on bridges in the dawn's mist, over nearly stagnant creeks or nearly up to our knees in eelgrass, dragging strings tied to raw chicken necks through the dark water waiting to feel the claws' pinch and the string go taut. Then we'd sweep our dip nets along the muddy bottom, tangling the blue crabs before we dropped them, shells clattering angrily, into a wooden bushel basket. The adults had to put a board over the basket because the crabs would escape and come scuttling sideways after us, furiously threatening us with their front claws, which terrified me. I was always relieved when we tossed them into the steamer because as a child it seemed to me that the crabs were hateful things when they were alive. Cooked, they were my favorite food.

They went into the speckled black and white pot like wet rocks, the color of water; grey-blue, muddy stone, and the green of marsh rushes. They came out orange-red like paprika, caked in Old Bay in an avalanche of shell and claw on top of old newspapers. Eating crabs was so messy that we only ate them outside on the picnic table over a bed of old Chronicles. We unraveled rolls of paper towels. The adults snapped open cans of beer and smashed into the crabs with wooden mallets. I learned young how to peel back the apron and scoop out the poisonous lungs which we called "devil's fingers" and since my hands were small I could easily pick out the lumps of backfin meat and the thin strips of sweet flesh hiding in the knuckles and legs. We ate with our hands, soaking the crabmeat in melted butter, licking the almost bitter spiciness from our fingers, repeating over and over how lucky we were that food this good lived practically in our backyard and that we could, for nothing but a couple hours and a few cents, dine like millionaires until autumn."

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not a celebrity chef

In a later e-mail Victoria elaborated:

"When my family moved here in the late '80s, I think you still could catch them. I remember my uncle and his friends crabbing and especially shrimping in Pompano near the Hillsboro inlet. In Delaware and in the entire Chesapeake area you can definitely still crab with chicken necks. My family up there still looks forward to it every summer."

About Victoria Fedden:
I'm not a celebrity chef, or for that matter a celebrity anything, but I once cooked professionally. Now I just cook for fun and write about food. I occasionally contribute to the blog Foodtastic (though not in a while) and I'm finishing my MFA in poetry at FAU, where I also teach. Last year an essay and a restaurant review I wrote were featured in the book Hungry Miami.

We'd love to hear your first food memories! Post here or e-mail me at gail.shepherd@browardpalmbeach.com

-- Gail Shepherd

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