Clara Gerica and her family are familiar faces at the Crescent City Farmers Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org), where they sell shrimp, fish and soft-shell crabs. Clara's husband Pete catches all this in local waters, usually in Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, near the family home on Bayou Sauvage in eastern New Orleans.
Soft-shell crabs have been slow to come along this season. Is this a concern?
Gerica: We are worried about it. We're worried it's part of the BP spill. You know the people in Alaska, after the (Exxon) Valdez spill, they tell us they didn't see the effects for three years. We've had trouble with the fish before, we're having trouble with the crabs now, and that's a big part of the business.
Under normal circumstances, what's the most difficult part of getting your soft-shell crabs to market?
G: That you have to get up every three hours to check on them. The whole family works it in shifts. Once they start cracking out of their shells you have to move them to another tank. If you aren't watching them, and they come out of that shell, they just turn into hard crabs again and you've lost your chance. But when they first come out of that shell, oh, they're so soft. We sit there and pet them.
What makes a farmers market a good place to sell your seafood?
G: I used to run a retail shop, and I can tell you it was very different. We'd buy from others and sell it all at the shop. You didn't really have the same control over it all. But here we know everything about our product. I wash all our shrimp; we scrub our crabs. My husband thinks I'm crazy sometimes, but he caught it and I want people to see how good it is. Most people who shop the markets understand that. They respect what's local; they understand there's a culture behind it. You can get the foreign imports but the flavor's just not there. Sometimes people bring us dishes they made with our seafood. One lady came back with this crab salad she'd made just the other day. That's what these markets are all about. — IAN MCNULTY