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Grandma Cronise’s Crab Soup
The crab soup that Manny Anello thinks about when he wants to savor the good old days goes back to Hollins Street, the neighborhood of Mencken, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church and the city market where his Irish grandmother bought live blue crabs.
Two indelible memories of Anello’s early 1950s childhood in southwest Baltimore are feeding sugar cubes to the ponies in neighborhood stables and watching his grandmother make a huge pot of crab soup.
“It’s been emblazoned on my brain since I was three,” said Anello, a veteran Arbutus attorney. He told family stories while enjoying a fine bowl of crab and corn chowder at Larry’s 1332, a new restaurant on the first floor of his Baltimore law office.
Larry Schwartz’s crab chowder conjured images of Anello’s grandmother, Josephine Martin Cronise, at the stove in the house at 1223 West Lombard Street near South Carey. There, the extended family lived together.
Grandma [1892-1977] was born in Baltimore, the daughter of a B&O railroad worker at the Mount Clare works. Anello’s mother Rose, born in 1916, was the second of Josephine’s four children.
Anello–born Salvatore Emanuel Anello III, a 1965 graduate of Mt. St. Joseph High School–lived in the Irish/Lithuanian/African-American neighborhood until he was 10. In those days, he was known as “Little Manny.”
Though he often walked to the market with his grandmother to buy the crabs and stood by as she pieced together her version of the Free State staple, he’s only made it twice in the last 30 years.
“It’s a big job, not easy to do. She made enough to fill a large crab pot,” said Anello. “Grandma’s secret was putting in two dozen shelled female crabs cleaned and broken in half.”
Authentic Maryland crab soup is always made using whole or half crabs instead of, or in addition to, crab meat.
You don’t see it too often these days and there is a generation who believes that if you don’t get half a crab in the bowl, you have not been served crab soup. Some folks just throw in the claws and unscrupulous establishments try to pass off vegetable soup spiced with Old Bay as the real thing.
An especially unique take using halved crabs is Frances Kitching’s “Jimmy Stew,” with broth the color of a tidewater inlet. It can be found in “Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cook Book” [from Cornell Maritime Press.]
To be worthy of Grandma’s crab pot, said Anello: “All the vegetables had to be growing.”
By “growing,” he meant fresh, uncooked produce from the market or roadside stand: lima beans and peas that had to be taken home and hulled; string beans in need of snipping.
“The only vegetable from a can was Maryland white corn,” said Anello, taking his last spoonful of chowder on Sulphur Spring Road, his mind seven miles and 60 years down the road.
“I’m going to make it again,” he said. “It’s on the agenda.”