As I walked around Lake Claire, the little village of fisherpeople, artists and activists where I live, early on Tuesday morning, I noticed something: No shrimpers were out in their yards mending their nets.
As those of you who have visited Lake Claire know, there could be many reasons for that. (You are, as always, free to offer your thoughts in the comments section below.)
But when I returned home and looked at the calendar, I had my answer: The Georgia shrimp season had officially opened at 6 that morning.
The French have Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday of November when the latest bottles of the most popular vin de primeur are rushed to the markets. The closest thing we have here in Georgia is Shrimp Season Opening Day (although I have heard some people say that in Atlanta every day is an Opening Day).
When the season starts, shrimp boats are allowed to operate inside the state’s territorial waters extending three miles offshore. Shrimpers, some of them recreational, are also free to use nets and beach seines to catch shrimp closer to shore.
For those of us who are at most only vicarious shrimpers, Shrimp Season Opening Day is an occasion for contemplating those cute little fellows who have added so much pleasure to our lives.
Ah, the joy of cracking the shell off a fresh plump, juicy boiled shrimp and popping it into your mouth.
My personal love affair with shrimp began when I was a small child attending a Georgia Press Association convention with my parents in Savannah. There, one night, was the greatest seafood feast I had ever seen, and the best of all the options, as I quickly discovered, was the succulent fried shrimp.
Later, I learned to love shrimp in all the varied ways they can be cooked.
Even when we lived for some years in the desert Southwest my mother made a habit of serving cold and spicy shrimp cocktail as an appetizer on all special occasions.
Much later, when I was dating the woman who is now my wife, I encountered a new treat.
On my first visit to her hometown of Mobile I was introduced to her family’s Christmas eve custom.
Big shrimp from the Gulf, boiled to perfection and served with homemade cocktail sauce with lots of horseradish and Tabasco sauce, were the main course that night and they continue to be our Christmas eve dinner today.
But the shrimp were also served with another special treat, thanks to a fellow ocean creature that also maintains a special place in my season-opening meditations: the crab.
At Chrys’s house a crab dish called West Indies Salad, served with saltines, was the perfect complement to a heaping bowl of shrimp. And, to this day, West Indies Salad is also part of our Christmas tradition.
If you know this dish — which I’m told originated at a now defunct restaurant called Bailey’s on the Dauphin Island Parkway in Mobile — you know what I’m talking about.
If not, here’s the recipe for a treat that will make your next shrimp dinner complete. The recipe serves four to six people. The dish is rich, and a small portion will be just right.
West Indies Salad
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 chopped onion
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup Wesson Oil
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup ice water
Take half of chopped onion and put in bottom of a glass (not plastic) bowl. Add crabmeat, then put the other half of the onion on top. Salt and pepper. Add, in order — Wesson oil, then cider vinegar, then ice water. Do not stir for at least 24 hours. Put plastic wrap over the bowl and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Stir well, and spoon out into small bowls.
And then? Bon appetit.