Old Dog/New Tricks

By Debbie Koenig

I’m 51 years old, and the other day I ate crab for the first time. And I don’t mean I tasted someone else’s crab cake. I actually learned how to crack open a crab’s leg and extract the meat. I dunked it in a bit of melted butter, and ate it. And then I did it again.

I grew up kosher, which prohibits eating pork and shellfish, among other things. While I fell under bacon’s spell a few decades ago (who can resist that aroma?), the allure of shellfish escaped me. When I visited a friend’s home in New Orleans at age 22, she brought me to a crawfish boil. This was pre-Internet, and I’d never even heard of crawfish before, never mind seen one. The restaurant poured a swarm of bright red, insect-like creatures onto a layer of newspaper and my companions dug in, popping off heads and sucking out the juices. I could barely look at this primal scene, and I declined to participate, as politely as I could.

 So, what changed in the three decades since then? Why, when some friends invited us to their Lowcountry Boil, did I say yes? Honestly, I thought I’d just eat corn and potatoes, maybe a piece of sausage, and nobody would notice that I abstained from the shellfish. If I felt adventurous, I might discreetly sample my husband’s. I thought I’d be setting a good example for my picky kid: This is how you avoid insulting the host when you’re not a fan of the food.

And then we got there, and I saw how excited the other children were to learn how to handle a crab’s leg. I felt embarrassed at my unwillingness to try something new. Most of all, I realized that if I didn’t try the crab, I’d reinforce my son’s belief that he can tell by looking that he won’t like something. So while we were all milling about setting the table and putting out bowls of melted butter, I announced that I, too, would need a lesson in cracking open a crab’s leg.

The other adults expressed amazement that I’d never tried shellfish before, and soon I found myself with a group of cheerleaders offering advice. They all watched as I took my first bite, and they laughed when I said, “I had no idea crab was so sweet!”

My son laughed too, even though his own plate held only a few pieces of bread. Maybe by the time he’s 51….

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